Google Project Loon Internet balloons have gone the distance of 75 trips around the world

3 million kilometers is a long journey. Google project Loon ballons have travelled 3 million kilometers through the stratosphere since the project began last year. The Google Plus Project Loon page has more up to date information than the main Google Project Loon website.

In that time we’ve learned a great deal about what it will take to bring the Internet to everyone, no matter where they are. For example, what footwear is it best for our manufacturing team to wear when they need to walk on the balloon envelopes? Turns out it’s very fluffy socks, the fluffier the better, to ensure the least amount of friction when building our balloons. This is just one of the hundreds of discoveries that has helped prevent leaks and refine our automated manufacturing process so that our balloons now last 10 times longer in the stratosphere than they did in 2013, with many lasting 100 days or more (our current record is 130 days!).

It’s one thing for our balloons to last longer, but to build a ring of connectivity around the world we’ll also need to get more in the air. Imagine how long it would take you and your friends to inflate 7,000 party balloons. That’s what it takes to fill just one of our Loon balloons for flight, so we’ve developed autofill equipment that will be capable of doing it in under 5 minutes. We now have the ability to launch up to 20 balloons per day as we continue to improve our ability to launch consistently at scale.

As we’ve launched more long-lasting balloons in the stratosphere we’ve needed to ensure that we can accurately maneuver them to where they need to go. By constantly computing thousands of trajectory simulations it turns out we can get pretty close to our targets. For example, one flight came within 1.5km of our target destination over a flight of 9,000 kilometers, purely through predicting and sailing with the stratospheric winds. This is great for getting our balloons to where users need them, and great for getting balloons to our recovery zones at the end of their lifetime to make our recovery team’s job that much easier.

But perhaps one of the best illustrations of the progress we’ve made in our journey thus far are these pictures showing one of our uber-sophisticated launches from the earliest days of Project Loon compared to one of our more recent efforts. What a difference 3 million kilometers make; here’s to many more! 

Slate has details about how Google Loon solved a key problem of small leaks.

Leaks were based on two sets of problems.

1) balloons had to be folded several times over to be transported, and some developed tiny tears at the corners where they’d been folded repeatedly. Google set to work finding ways to fold and roll the balloons that would distribute the stress more evenly across the fabric.

2) balloons were ripping slightly when workers stepped on the fabric with their socks. The solution to that problem? “Fluffier socks,” says Cassidy. “Seriously, that made a difference. Softer socks meant fewer leaks.”

Balloons started lasting longer: four days initially and now two out of every three balloons remain in the sky for at least 100 days.

Operational information

1) the balloons rise more than 60,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, putting them far beyond the reach of the highest-flying planes—and atmospheric storm systems. That’s much too high to be visible from the ground.

2) the balloons could never hover in place. They’re constantly propelled by stratospheric wind currents that can reach up to 100 mph. That’s a little problematic, given that the aim is to provide steady data service to stationary targets back on solid ground. Google’s solution is to keep large fleets of balloons aloft at all times, with some following in others’ wakes. That way, just as one balloon is about to drift out of range of a given location, the next one is entering the zone, keeping the connection alive.

SOURCES- google Plus Google Project Loon page, Google Project Loon website, Slate, Youtube