Internet balloon spends record-breaking 312 days in the stratosphere
An internet-beaming balloon has broken a flight record, staying aloft in the stratosphere for 312 days straight. Developed and launched by Loon, the balloon circumnavigated the globe over the Southern Hemisphere for 10 months, demonstrating the resilience of the network.
Originally a Google project, Loon was later spun off into its own company under the Alphabet umbrella. The idea is to launch a fleet of large communications balloons into the stratosphere, where they can form a network that provides internet speeds comparable to 4G, with each balloon serving a ground area of about 80 km (50 mi) in diameter. The Loon network could be especially useful for regions that don’t otherwise have internet access, such as Kenya, which received the first commercial deployment of the tech earlier this year.
Of course, to make this viable those balloons need to be able to stay afloat for as long as possible. Meticulous engineering has gone into improving that important stat, and Loon consistently breaks its own records – the new high-water mark of 312 days is a sizeable jump from the previous record of 223 days.
Designated HBAL703, the record-breaking balloon set off from Puerto Rico in May 2019 before drifting down to Peru, where it spent three months providing a test service of the Loon internet. After that it was sent south, then performed an eastbound lap of the Earth, floating across the South Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and ending up above the South Pacific.
Once there, the balloon spent another seven months or so drifting back and forth over the water, participating in a “very exciting navigation system experiment” that Loon hasn’t yet detailed. Finally, the balloon was sent north to Baja, Mexico, where it was recovered in March 2020.
Loon says that the data recovered from the recovered balloons is invaluable for improving the technology and helping future ‘loons stay aloft even longer. This record almost certainly won’t stand for long.
The company discusses the record in the new video below.