The metal and canvas contraptions block the wind, clamp the balloons into place, and provide a perch for the antenna payload, which prevents it from swinging as the balloons take off. By using the Autolauncher, Cassidy says balloons can be launched with four people every 15 minutes and in winds of up to 15 miles per hour. Before, they could do one balloon every 45 minutes and were limited to wind speeds of 6 miles per hour or less.
It is important to launch quickly and reliably, because Google will need hundreds in the air at one time to blanket a region with reliable Internet access.
Google developed the Autolauncher, also known as the Bird House, for Project Loon. Source: Google via Bloomberg
The second advancement within Project Loon is an even bigger deal. Until now, each balloon had to link directly with a telephone company’s ground stations up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away to relay Internet signals. That suggested Google or its telco partners, such as Vodafone and Telefonica, might have to sprinkle hundreds of ground stations across continents, an expensive and inefficient proposition. Now Cassidy says they have devised a way to pass high-frequency Internet signals from balloon to balloon in midair, which allows individual balloons to roam 400 kilometers to 800 kilometers away from a ground station. One of the biggest technical challenges, he says, was finding reliable ways to point the wind-blown balloons toward each other at the right times and at a high altitude, where temperatures can reach minus-50 degrees Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit) causing such conventional components as metal gimbals and motors to malfunction. “We had to learn how to be very accurate with the pointing,” Cassidy says. By linking balloons together in what’s called a mesh network, Google can now provide coverage for an entire region like West Africa with only about eight ground stations.
Google Loon Targets
* By the end of 2015, provide a few days of continuous service in its tests. So far only intermittent service has been provided
* Roll out the Google Loon service more widely by the end of 2016. Start with underserved Internet markets such as Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia as the best places to start.
SOURCE – Bloomberg Business