Google has shared details of successful tests of its Project Loon internet balloon system that took place in South America over the summer. The team was able to keep one of its Loon balloons in Peruvian airspace for fourteen weeks.
Project Loon is a research initiative that aims to deliver internet access to people in rural and remote areas. A high speed connection is transmitted from the ground to a balloon, which then acts as the hub of a network capable of reaching more distant regions.
This process is made even more challenging by the various different wind systems acting upon the balloons as they float high above the ground. Based on the millions of kilometers of test flights that have already been carried out, the Project Loon team has developed models that help predict wind patterns, increasing the team’s ability to keep the balloons in areas where they’re needed.
To test out this navigation technology, the team sent a balloon from Puerto Rico to Peru, where its mission was to remain in the sky for as long as possible. The transit itself took 12 days, after which the balloon spent 98 days over Peruvian airspace — a feat that required almost 20,000 altitude adjustments.
The balloon spent the majority of its stay over Peru in the stratosphere, floating 20 kilometers above the country’s port city of Chimbote. When there wasn’t an appropriate wind pattern to keep the balloon over land, the algorithms in charge would default to the next best option: sending it out over the Pacific Ocean to reach easterly winds that could blow it back to its intended position.
There’s still plenty of testing left to be done before Project Loon is ready for a full rollout, according to a blog post detailing this summer’s activity. However, it’s clear that the team at Google’s mysterious X Labs is already making good progress.