Fantasy Becoming a Reality
As the massive search for missing Malaysian Flight 370 shows, the world is still a very big place. The world is so big, in fact, that most people don’t realize that the majority of the world’s population, some 5 to 6 billion people, still do not have Internet access and won’t, likely, for decades. IndustryTap recently reported about Altaeros Energies’s WiFi wind turbine project but they’re not the only ones wanting to deliver Internet access from uncoventional methods. The smart guys at Google have been wracking their brains to figure out a way to bring Internet access to anyone who wants it too.
Jules Vern’s novel “Around The World in 80 days”, published in 1875, was one of the first widely published and referenced acts of the human imagination illustrating how the earth could be “conquered” by human ingenuity and spirit. But neither Vern nor any of us as children could imagine Google’s Project Loon, which seeks to create an around the world network of balloons floating 20 km above the earth, that would make the Internet available to the entire world.
Balloons in the Loon network would fly above the world’s clouds, mountains and planes in an area known as the stratosphere. The stratosphere has predictable air patterns that would allow technicians to “steer” these balloons by changing their altitude and making sure balloons are in the right place to deliver the Internet.
The balloons communicate with special Internet antennas on the earth via radio waves at a frequency dedicated to the Loon project. All of the balloons flying in the stratosphere communicate with these antennas, forming a huge web. One challenge is to deliver high bandwidth over the long distance involved and Loon project technicians have created technology to accomplish this.
100 Days Aloft Before Maintenance “Pitstop”
The balloons are solar powered and there are collection points around the world where the balloons are landed for maintenance and recycling of parts. The balloon envelopes are made by Raven Aerostar and are made of polyethylene plastic 3 mil or .003 inches (.075mm) thick. The balloons are “super pressure balloons” filled with helium and are 49 feet (15m) wide and 39 feet (12m) tall. The balloons carry a patented air pump system called “Croce” that regulates air to ballast the balloon and control elevation. A small 22 lb box containing the balloon’s electronic equipment including Internet antennae, batteries, circuit boards and solar panels, hangs from the balloon.
Loon, aka IBIS-167, recently completed a circumnavigation of the world in just 22 days covering a total distance of 31,000 miles.