Alphabet’s high-flying Loon subsidiary is laying claim to a new flight duration record for its internet-beaming stratospheric balloons. The company said that it has beaten its own record of 223 days, which it announced in July last year, by nearly three months.
The announcement comes as myriad public and private entities seek new ways to expand internet coverage to the farthest reaches of Earth. Constellations of micro-satellites from companies like Amazon and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are competing to bring connectivity to hard-to-reach places, while last week Microsoft launched Azure Space to make its cloud unit “the platform and ecosystem of choice” in this burgeoning space race, and is similar to a new business Amazon launched just a few months previous. Related to all of this, Bill Gates recently led a $85.2 million investment in satellite antenna company Kymeta, which helps equip any vehicle or vessel with internet access.
Google’s parent company Alphabet spun out of Loon as an in independent entity back in 2018, after five years as one of its so-called “moonshot projects.” Loon balloons travel in the stratosphere up to 25km above the Earth, where the varying conditions affect the direction and speed of the balloons. To counter this, Loon uses algorithms and predictive models to move the balloons up and down until they find a favorable wind current and continue moving in their intended direction, while avoiding any restricted zones. This enables Loon to serve mobile network operators with expanded LTE coverage, covering remote areas or disaster zones where ground infrastructure has been damaged.
Balloons hold many inherent benefits, one of which being that they are wind-powered and can stay in the heavens for long periods of time without requiring power to continuously propel it. The onboard electronics, including two radio transceivers, are powered by solar panels and a rechargeable battery.
One of its balloons launched from Puerto Rico in May, 2019, and traveled to Peru where it was tested as part of a pilot service for a three-month period. It then circumnavigated the globe and traveled some 215,000 kilometres, and landed in Baja, Mexico in March this year — 312 days after it first left the ground.
“This new duration record is exciting not because we flew one balloon for 312 days, but because it is a very visible indicator that our efforts to make all of our flight systems last longer is working,” Loon CTO Sal Candido wrote in a blog post.
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