Loon Internet Balloons To Launch In Puerto Rico
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has the go-ahead to use a fleet of balloons to restore internet and communication services to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico. The balloons, recently deployed in Peru for the same purpose, were developed by Loon, an Alphabet subsidiary and sister company to Google.
The balloons are about the size of a tennis court when inflated at altitude and carry roughly the equivalent of a cell-tower communications package powered by solar panels during the day and batteries at night, according to Loon’s technical data. Loon says it’s capable of launching a balloon every 30 minutes from a ground-based launcher that includes a self-contained enclosure to protect the delicate balloon from wind gusts. The balloons operate at altitudes between 60,000 and 80,000 feet. To keep them relatively on station, the system is equipped with predictive and real-time monitoring of winds to allow the balloons to climb and descend to remain as close to stationary as possible. Like dirigibles, the Loon aerostats are equipped with ballonets that can be inflated with air, reducing the volume of the lifting gas and allowing climbs and descents.
Each balloon can provide service to about 3000 square miles if ideally positioned. That’s slightly smaller than the 3500-square-mile area of Puerto Rico. The balloons cross-link to provide the best coverage matrix and when they drift off position or are otherwise disabled, they’re capable of descent for recovery by crews on the surface.
Although the company has been given rapid approval by the FCC to begin operating, it still has hurdles to overcome. Loon spokesperson Libby Leahy said on Friday, “We’re grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it’s possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need. To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs to be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.”
Loon achieved some success in Peru after flooding damaged the country’s terrestrial cell network. But ahead of the floods, Loon had already been working with Telefonica, the country’s largest cell and data provider.