Project Loon delivering emergency internet and phone access to 100,000 in Puerto Rico within weeks of hurricane

Working with AT&T and T-Mobile, Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones. This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this. As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.

Last month, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane and caused significant damage to the island’s connectivity infrastructure.

Project Loon never deployed connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we’re grateful for the support of AT&T, T-Mobile and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible.

Google Loon launches and maintain a fleet of balloons to provide Internet coverage to users on the ground, with our Autolaunchers capable of safely and consistently launching a new balloon every 30 minutes. they have flown over 25 million km of test flights to date since the project began – with one of our record-breaking balloons surviving for 190 days aloft in the stratosphere.

High speed internet is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from our telecommunications partner on the ground, relayed across the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground. We have demonstrated data transmission between balloons over 100 km apart in the stratosphere and back down to people on the ground with connection speeds of up to 10 Mbps, directly to their LTE phones.

Project Loon balloons are designed and manufactured at scale to survive the conditions in the stratosphere, where winds can blow over 100 km/hr and the thin atmosphere offers little protection from UV radiation and dramatic temperature swings which can reach as low as -90°C. Made from sheets of polyethylene, each tennis court sized balloon is built to last more than 100 days in the stratosphere before returning to the ground in a controlled descent.

4 thoughts on “Project Loon delivering emergency internet and phone access to 100,000 in Puerto Rico within weeks of hurricane”

  1. Second time trying to comment on this article….

    Good for them, it’s nice that somebody is stepping up to the plate and helping PR. In the long run, this is a good real-world learning experience and should help drive business to them in the future.

  2. For widespread deployment, seems would require a rather large use of the limited helium inventory. Perhaps amorphous alumina thin film coating of Mylar would allow hydrogen gas substitution?

    • The U.S. government still has a stockpile of helium they built up back in the 20’s when they thought they had to keep up with the Germans on dirigible development. They are selling it off slowly now, but apparently still have a billion cubic meters of the stuff.

      Helium can be recovered from natural gas. Since much of the natural gas that comes up as a byproduct of our oil wells is flared directly into the atmosphere instead of actually used, helium must not be that precious to us. (Don’t believe me about the flaring, look at a satellite night-time view of the U.S. and see the big bright blob in North Dakota – that’s not a huge city, that’s the Bakken oil field).

    • Unless I’m mistaken, helium is usually sourced from natural gas, which seems to be super abundant at the moment.

      Still, you might be able to save some money by using hydrogen instead. Certainly in applications which doesn’t have to stay afloat for a long time. The upcoming manned balloon-to-space experience comes to mind as an example. It’s already hanging from a parachute, so a fire in the balloon (way above on a long tether) probably wouldn’t jeopardize the safety of the passengers.

Comments are closed.