Project Loon

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Project Loon
Mission statement Balloon-powered Internet for everyone
Commercial? Yes
Type of project Internet and telecommunication
Location Worldwide
A Project Loon balloon at the Christchurch launch event in June 2013

Project Loon is a research and development project being developed by X (formerly Google X) with the mission of providing Internet access to rural and remote areas. The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 18 km (11 mi) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds.[1][2][3][4] It was named Project Loon, since even Google itself found the idea of providing Internet access to the remaining 5 billion population unprecedented and crazy/loony.[1]

The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude in the stratosphere to float to a wind layer after identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction using wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider (ISP), then onto the global Internet. The system aims to bring Internet access to remote and rural areas poorly served by existing provisions, and to improve communication during natural disasters to affected regions.[5][6] Key people involved in the project include Rich DeVaul, chief technical architect, who is also an expert on wearable technology; Mike Cassidy, a project leader; and Cyrus Behroozi, a networking and telecommunication lead.[1]

The balloons use patch antennas - which are directional antennas - to transmit signals to ground stations or LTE users. Some smartphones with Google SIM cards can use Google Internet services. The whole infrastructure is based on LTE; the eNodeB component (the equivalent of the "base station" that talks directly to handsets) is carried in the balloon.


In 2008, Google considered contracting with or acquiring Space Data Corp[7]., a company that sends balloons carrying small base stations about 20 mi (32 km) up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies in the southern United States, but didn't do so.[8]

Unofficial development on the project began in 2011 under incubation in Google X with a series of trial runs in California's Central Valley. The project was officially announced as a Google project on June 14, 2013.[1]

On June 16, 2013, Google began a pilot experiment in New Zealand where about 30 balloons were launched in coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority from the Tekapo area in the South Island. About 50 local users in and around Christchurch and the Canterbury Region tested connections to the aerial network using special antennas.[1] After this initial trial, Google plans on sending up 300 balloons around the world at the 40th parallel south that would provide coverage to New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. Google hopes to eventually have thousands of balloons flying in the stratosphere.[1][2]

In May 2014, Google X laboratories director, Astro Teller, announced that, rather than negotiate a section of bandwidth that was free for them worldwide, they would instead become a temporary base station that could be leased by the mobile operators of the country it was crossing over.

In May–June 2014 Google tested its balloon-powered internet access venture in Piauí, Brazil, marking its first LTE experiments and launch near the equator.[9]

In 2014 Google partnered with France's Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES) on the project.[10]

In February 2014, the record streak for a balloon lasting in the stratosphere was 50 days. In Nov 2014, the record was 130 days, and in March 2, 2015, the record for a continuous balloon flight is 187 days (over 6 months).

On July 28, 2015, Google signed an agreement with officials of Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) - Sri Lanka, to launch the technology on a mass scale.[11] As a result, by March 2016,[11] Sri Lanka will be the second country in the world to get full coverage of internet using LTE, after Vatican City.

On October 29, 2015, Google agreed to partner with Indonesia's XL Axiata, Indosat and Telkomsel to bring the technology to the country in the hopes of connecting its 17,000 islands.[12]

On February 25, 2016, Google started testing their autolauncher named "Chicken Little" at former naval station Roosevelt Roads located in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.[13]

In May 2017 Spacedata started proceedings for patent infringement[7] it due in court in 2019.

On October 6, 2017, Google filed an application with the FCC, and cleared it the same day, with authorization to start immediately to provide emergency LTE coverage to Puerto Rico. The plan allows 30 balloons to relay communication between ground terminals connected to people's handsets. Google will have to install Over The Air (OTA) updates to allow Band 8 operations and at the end of the authorization, a separate OTA update will disable this operation. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced at a press conference on October, 8 2017 the launch of Google's Loon Project on the Caribbean island, following its approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of U.S. "The Government of Puerto Rico has been working with the Loon team for many years and collaborating in its efforts to provide recovery support after the hurricane. We have supported the project from its inception and enthusiastically, and will continue to collaborate to see if Loon can help people in this time of need, "Rossello said. This technology will allow retransmitting telecommunications signals through balloons that will be at 65,000 feet (20,000 meters) from Puerto Rico. The Loon Project consists of a network of balloons traveling in space boundaries that are designed to extend LTE cellular and internet signal coverage to people located in remote and rural areas worldwide. The high-speed connection is transmitted to the nearest balloon via the nearest telecom partner on the ground, sent through the balloon network and then back to the users on the ground. The Loon project has demonstrated data transmission between balloons 100 kilometers away in the stratosphere and back to people on Earth, with connection speeds of up to 10 mega, directly to their LTE phones. The governor and chief information officer of the Government of Puerto Rico, Luis Arocho, visited Loon headquarters last March at Google's San Francisco, California facility.[14]

On October 9, 2017, multiple balloons were spotted near Puerto Rico via "FlightRadar24".[15] That same month, it was reported the project have been spun off into it own company Loon Inc by parent company Alphabet Inc.[16]


Project Loon is Google's pursuit to deploy a high-altitude balloon network operating in the stratosphere, at altitudes between 18 km and 25 km. Google asserts that this particular layer of the stratosphere is advantageous because of its relatively low wind speeds (e.g., wind speeds between 5 and 20 mph / 10 to 30 km/h) and minimal turbulence. Moreover, Google claims that it can model, with reasonable accuracy, the seasonal, longitudinal, and latitudinal variations in wind speeds within the 18–25 km stratospheric layer.[17]

Given a reasonably accurate model of wind speeds within the 18–25 km band, Google claims that it can control the latitudinal and longitudinal position of high-altitude balloons by adjusting only the balloon's altitude.[17] By adjusting the volume and density of the gas (e.g., helium, hydrogen, or another lighter-than-air compound) in the balloon, the balloon's variable buoyancy system is able to control the balloon's altitude.[17] Google has additionally indicated that balloons may be constructed from various materials (e.g., metalized Mylar or BoPET) or a highly flexible latex or rubber material (e.g., chloroprene).[17]

Initially, the balloons communicated using unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ISM bands,[18] and Google claims that the setup allows it to deliver "speeds comparable to 3G" to users, but they then switched to LTE[19] with cellular spectrum by cooperating with local telecommunication operators.[20] It is unclear how technologies that rely on short communications times (low latency pings), such as VoIP, might need to be modified to work in an environment similar to mobile phones where the signal may have to relay through multiple balloons before reaching the wider Internet.[21][22]

The first person to connect to the "Google Balloon Internet" after the initial test balloons were launched into the stratosphere was a farmer in the town of Leeston, New Zealand, who was one of 50 people in the area around Christchurch who agreed to be a pilot tester for Project Loon. The New Zealand farmer lived in a rural location that couldn't get broadband access to the Internet, and had used a satellite Internet service in 2009, but found that he sometimes had to pay over $1000 per month for the service. The locals knew nothing about the secret project other than its ability to deliver Internet connectivity, but allowed project workers to attach a basketball-sized receiver resembling a giant bright-red party balloon to an outside wall of their property in order to connect to the network.[23][24]

The technology designed in the project could allow countries to avoid using expensive fiber cable that would have to be installed underground to allow users to connect to the Internet. Google feels this will greatly increase Internet usage in developing countries in regions such as Africa and Southeast Asia that can't afford to lay underground fiber cable.[23]


A Project Loon research balloon

The balloon envelopes used in the project are made by Raven Aerostar,[25] and are composed of polyethylene plastic about 0.076 mm (0.0030 in) thick. The balloons are superpressure balloons filled with helium, standing 15 m (49 ft) across and 12 m (39 ft) tall when fully inflated. They carry a custom air pump system dubbed the "Croce"[26] that pumps in or releases air to ballast the balloon and control its elevation.[1] A small box weighing 10 kg (22 lb) containing each balloon's electronic equipment hangs underneath the inflated envelope. This box contains circuit boards that control the system, radio antennas and a Ubiquiti Networks 'Rocket M2'[27] to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennas on the ground, and batteries to store solar power so the balloons can operate during the night. Each balloon's electronics are powered by an array of solar panels that sit between the envelope and the hardware. In full sun, the panels produce 100 watts of power, which is sufficient to keep the unit running while also charging a battery for use at night. A parachute attached to the top of the envelope allows for a controlled descent and landing when a balloon is ready to be taken out of service.[18] In the case of an unexpected failure, the parachute deploys automatically.[28] When taken out of service, the balloon is guided to an easily reached location, and the helium is vented into the atmosphere. The balloons typically have a maximum life of about 100 days, although Google claims that its tweaked design can enable them to stay aloft for closer to 200 days.[29]

The prototype ground stations use a Ubiquiti Networks 'Rocket M5'[27] radio and a custom patch antenna[30] to connect to the balloons at a height of 20 km (12 mi).[6] Some reports have called Google's project the Google Balloon Internet.[2][31][32]

The balloons are equipped with automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast and so can be publicly tracked (along with other balloons) with the call-sign "HBAL"[33]


On May 29, 2014, a Loon balloon crashed into power lines in Washington, United States.[34]

On June 20, 2014, New Zealand officials briefly scrambled emergency services personnel when a Loon balloon came down.[35]

In November 2014, a South African farmer found a crashed Loon balloon in the Karoo desert between Strydenburg and Britstown.[36]

On April 23, 2015, a Loon balloon crashed in a field near Bragg City, Missouri.[37]

On September 12, 2015, a Loon balloon crashed in the front lawn of a residence on Rancho Hills, Chino Hills, CA.

On February 17, 2016, a Loon balloon crashed in the tea-growing region of Gampola, Sri Lanka while carrying out tests.[38]

On April 7, 2016, a Loon balloon landed on a farm in Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.[39]

On April 22, 2016, a Loon balloon crashed in a field in the Ñeembucu department, Paraguay.[40][41]

On August 22, 2016, a Loon balloon landed on a ranch in Formosa, Argentina about 40 km. West of the Capital of Formosa.[42]

On August 26, 2016, a Loon balloon landed northwest of Madison, SD.

On January 9, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

On January 8, 2017 and January 10, 2017, two Loon Balloons landed at 10 km E of Cerro Chato & 40 km NNW of Mariscala, Uruguay.

On February, 17, a Loon Balloon crashed in Buriti dos Montes, Brazil.[43]

On March 14, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in San Luis at Tolima, Colombia.

On March 19, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in Tacuarembó, Uruguay.

On August 9, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in a reedbed in Olmos, Lambayeque, Peru.


Project Loon has generally been well received, although Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project developers and astronomers have raised concerns that the lower of the two ISM bands that Loon uses (2.4 GHz) will interfere with the mid-band frequency range (0.5 GHz–3 GHz) used in the SKA project.[44]

Google has not yet specified the costs of this project.[45]

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key delivered a speech at the launch event in Christchurch stating that the Internet is important for New Zealand to help it globally distribute what it produces in a low cost way as the next 4 billion people come online; Key also acknowledged the potential of utilizing Loon for disaster recovery.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Levy, Steven (June 14, 2013). "How Google Will Use High-Flying Balloons to Deliver Internet to the Hinterlands". Wired. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "Google to beam Internet from balloons". Agence France-Presse. Google. June 15, 2013. Archived from the original on June 17, 2013. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Google launches Project Loon". The New Zealand Herald. June 15, 2013. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ Lardinois, Frederic (June 14, 2013). "Google X Announces Project Loon: Balloon-Powered Internet For Rural, Remote And Underserved Areas". TechCrunch. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  5. ^ Mack, Eric (June 14, 2013). "Meet Google's 'Project Loon:' Balloon-powered 'net access". CNET. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Brodkin, Jon (June 14, 2013). "Google flies Internet balloons in stratosphere for a "network in the sky"". ArsTechnica. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "A Lawsuit Has Alphabet's Project Loon In Jeopardy | Backchannel". WIRED. Retrieved 2017-09-27. 
  8. ^ Sharma, Amol (February 20, 2008). "Floating a New Idea For Going Wireless, Parachute Included". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on February 23, 2008. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  9. ^ The Next Web: Google celebrates Project Loon's birthday with first LTE experiments and launch near the equator
  10. ^ Svitak, Amy (December 12, 2014). "Google, France Partner on Balloon-Powered Internet". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Archived from the original on December 14, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Google Project Loon to provide free internet across Sri Lanka
  12. ^ "Google Loon in Indonesia: The Large Ambition To Deliver Internet Connectivity". Eyerys. 
  13. ^ "Project Loon shows off autolauncher at work in Puerto Rico". Engadget. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ @DrSalted (9 October 2017). ".@Google 's parent company Alphabet gets FCC approval to fly 30 Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico & provide LTE coverage. Google's balloons can be tracked via their ADS-B transponders on websites such as @flightradar24,f229cff,f2599b6,f25bf29,f25fb17,f26d9de … #GOOGL #PuertoRico #HuracanMaria" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c d US application 13/346,636, Richard Wayne DeVaul, Eric Teller, Clifford L. Biffle, Josh Weaver; Eric Teller & Clifford L. Biffle et al., "Balloon network with free-space optical communication between super-node balloons and RF communication between super-node and sub-node balloons", published July 11, 2013, assigned to Google Inc. 
  18. ^ a b "How Loon Works". Google. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  19. ^ Project Loon: Scaling Up
  20. ^ Project Loon
  21. ^ Hodson, Hal (June 18, 2013). "Google's Project Loon to float the internet on balloons". New Scientist. Retrieved June 20, 2013. 
  22. ^ Misra, Archan; Das, Subir; McAuley, Anthony J. (2001). "Hierarchical Mobility Management for VoIP Traffic" (PDF). Retrieved October 17, 2013. 
  23. ^ a b Perry, Nick; Mendoza, Martha (June 15, 2013). "Google launches Internet-beaming balloons". Associated Press. Retrieved June 17, 2013. 
  24. ^ Smith, Mac; Heinrich, Mitch; Wasson, Brian (August 23, 2013). "Ask Away: How was the antenna casing designed?". Google Project Loon. Archived from the original (Video) on October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013. 6s: "The challenge for us, we have this big network of balloons that can provide Internet connectivity to people on the ground, but the people who are getting that service can't actually see the balloons. In fact, the only thing that they see from day to day is the device that's attached to their house." - Mac Smith ... 35s: "so we decided to iterate on the antenna form to make it more balloon-like." - Brian Wasson 
  25. ^ "Project Loon: Raven Aerostar - Google Collaboration". Raven Aerostar. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  26. ^ Gartner, Keegan; Ratner, Dan (August 14, 2013). "Ask Away: How do the balloons move up and down?". Google Project Loon. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013. 58s into video: We call this air control system "Croce" because our co-worker lead saw the shape of our impeller housing was bottle shaped and started singing "Time in a Bottle" [by] Jim Croce 
  27. ^ a b "Re: Internet for all". Ubiquiti Networks Community Forum. I've just been down to talk to the folks from Google, who are here in Christchurch, New Zealand, launching their pilot for Loon. One engineer told me "we use the Ubiquiti Rocket M2 for transceiving, and the M5 for groundstation uplink". He described the downwards-pointing antenna on the ballon, which sounded to me like a UniFi polar map, but on a bigger scale. They have modified the firmware to only work with other modified firmware Rockets.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  28. ^ Kelion, Leo (June 15, 2013). "Google tests balloons to beam internet from near space". BBC News. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  29. ^ Jon Brodkin (March 11, 2015). "Google balloons, "cell towers in the sky," can serve 4G to a whole state". Ars Technica. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  30. ^ Behroozi, Cyrus. "Ask Away: What's inside the Loon antenna?". Google Project Loon. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Google's ambitious Internet balloons soar above New Zealand". CBS News. Associated Press. June 15, 2013. Retrieved June 18, 2013. 
  32. ^ Mendoza, Martha; Perry, Nick (June 15, 2013). "Google begins launching Internet-beaming balloons". NBCNews. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 15, 2013. Retrieved June 18, 2013. 
  33. ^ Keep Your Eye on the HBAL—Tracking Project Loon Balloons – Flightradar24 Blog
  34. ^ Lardinois, Frederic. "One of Google's Project Loon balloons crashed into power lines in Washington state". TechCrunch. AOL Inc. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  35. ^ Sharwood, Simon (June 20, 2014). "That's no plane wreck, that's a Google Wi-Fi balloon: unplanned splashdown scrambles New Zealand emergency services". The Register. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  36. ^ "South African sheep farmer discovers downed Google Loon balloon crashed in Karoo Desert". The Daily Telegraph. November 20, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  37. ^ "Device known as 'Google Loon' lands in Missouri". KCTV 5. April 27, 2015. Archived from the original on April 29, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Google's Internet balloon 'crashes' in Sri Lanka test flight". Phys. February 18, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2016. 
  39. ^ 'Project Loon' Balloon found on farm in KZN
  40. ^ Globo de Google aterrizó bajo control - Ciencia - ABC Color
  41. ^ Globo de Google cae a un esteral de Ñeembucú
  42. ^ Cayó un globo de Google en un campo de las modelos Maglietti
  43. ^ Balão do Project Loon cai no interior do Piauí
  44. ^ Richard Chirgwin, Richard (June 17, 2013). "Google launches broadband balloons, radio astronomy frets". The Register. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  45. ^ Hall, Brian S. (June 19, 2013). "A Handy Guide To Google's Project Loon". ReadWrite. Say Media Inc. Retrieved October 3, 2013. 
  46. ^ Laura Smith-Spark, Laura (June 15, 2013). "Up, up and away: Google to launch Wi-Fi balloon experiment". Cable News Network. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 

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