Google's balloon-powered Internet takes flight: Behind the scenes with Project Loon

Project Loon uses high-altitude balloons to beam down Web access to Internet have nots.

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Google is bringing new meaning to the word "cloud computing." No Google is not rolling out a new SaaS solution. Instead Google is launching Project Loon that aims to bring Internet access to every corner of the globe via high-altitude balloons. Yes, that's right it's called Project Loon, as in "a crazy person" as Merriam-Webster defines the word. But it's June and this is not an elaborate April Fool's joke.  

Google's Project Loon is an ambitious experiment to use a network of high-altitude balloons to bring Internet access to parts of New Zealand that would otherwise not have Web access. It's a test of Google's larger ambitions to pioneer efforts to bring the Internet to other parts of the world including Africa where millions do not have access to the Internet.

On Sunday Google is holding what it calls a Festival of Flight at Christchurch, New Zealand and is inviting the public to go behind the scenes to meet the Project Loon team. Google is also inviting New Zealanders to register to be a Project Loon pilot tester.

The BBC has an excellent post on Project Loon where you can read about the project specifics. Part of Google's announcement also included some very informative videos (skip to the endo of the is post to watch) and also some spectacular photography documenting the project. Here is a link to the Project Loon Google+ page where you can learn more for yourself.

Below I cherry-picked some of the most informative and spectacular images Google has provided of Project Loons takeoff.

 

Project Loon team prepares for launch in the pre-dawn frost near Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.

 

The equipment carried by the balloon contains avionics software, flight sensors, and power systems. The avionics software is used to coordinate with mission control and perform safety checks, the flight sensors measure the balloon's state and the environment - things like GPS position, barometric pressure and temperature - and the power systems regulate solar charging, power usage, and battery safety. Above, the equipment is readied for launch.- Google

 

The stratosphere is great for solar panels because there are no clouds to block the sun. It takes 4 hours for the solar panels to charge the battery during the day, and that power is sufficient to keep all the flight systems working 24 hours a day. - Google 005 Project Loon team member Bill Rogers fills a balloon with helium while Paul Acosta monitors inflation. Each balloon requires 12 tanks of helium, the amount of which can be used to control how quickly the balloon ascends. - Google

 

A team of at least 6 people is required to launch a balloon. This team includes a launch commander to lead the team and coordinate with Mission Control, several people to do ground checks on various electronic components, and someone to set the balloon up for launch and inspect the envelope. - Google

 

The orange peanut clamp is used to weigh down the envelope so the balloon doesn't float away while final preparations are being made. A peanut is a clamp commonly used in the launch of high-altitude balloons. The balloon is launched by removing the peanut. - Google

 

Balloon are 50 feet in diameter and fly at 13 miles in the sky in the Earth's stratosphere - twice the height commercial aircraft fly. At this altitude winds move in predictable directions and balloons sail with the wind.

 

The Project Loon team monitors their balloons 24 hours a day, from launch to recovery, and shares position information and projections with local aviation authorities. - Google

 

Each balloon talks to neighboring balloons piggybacking Internet access from one balloon that talks to an Internet access provider on the ground.

 

A custom-designed Internet antenna attached to a user's house allows them to receive Internet service from Project Loon. The internet antenna's balloon-inspired design is a playful symbol of the Project Loon network. - Google

 

Eventually the balloons passing over New Zealand will pass over Africa and South America, Google points out. Eventually, Google says, its network in the sky will "bring the technologies of access to everyone on the planet."

 

Read more of Tom Spring's Planet Google blog and follow Tom on Twitter (@zpring) andGoogle+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter andFacebook.

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