Balloon-Powered Internet

Delivering connectivity from balloons flying 20 km up in the stratosphere poses a unique set of engineering challenges. To expand connectivity to unserved and underserved areas around the world, Loon combines advancements in materials science, atmospheric modeling, machine learning, communications systems, and more.

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The Loon System

Loon has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up, on the edge of space. Loon balloons are designed and manufactured to endure the harsh conditions in the stratosphere, where winds can blow over 100 km/hr, and temperatures can drop as low as -90° C.

Balloon

Made from sheets of polyethylene, each tennis court-sized balloon is built to last for well over 100 days before landing back on Earth in a controlled descent.

Flight Equipment

All the flight equipment is highly energy efficient and is powered by renewable energy. Solar panels power the system during the day while charging an onboard battery to allow for nighttime operations.

Flight Equipment

Antennas

Antennas transmit connectivity from ground stations, across a balloon mesh network, and back down to a user’s LTE phone. A user needs nothing more than a standard LTE phone to connect to a Loon balloon.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels power the equipment during the day and charge an onboard battery to allow for nighttime operation.

Flight Capsule

The flight capsule holds the electronics that command and control the Loon system.

Parachute

A parachute automatically deploys to guide the balloon safely back to Earth after its flight.
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Launching Loon

Our custom-built Autolaunchers are designed to launch Loon balloons safely and reliably at scale. Side panels protect the balloon from the wind as it is filled with lift gas and positioned for launch. The crane points downwind to smoothly release the Loon balloon up into the stratosphere. Each crane is capable of launching a new balloon into the Loon network every 30 minutes.

Navigating The Winds

Stratospheric Flight

Loon balloons travel approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere, well above airplanes, wildlife, and weather events.

Autonomous Navigation

Loon balloons can reach countries around the world from our launch sites. Predictive models of the winds and autonomous decision-making algorithms move each balloon up or down into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction, getting the balloon where it needs to go. The navigation system functions autonomously using our algorithms and software, with operators providing continuous human oversight.

Intelligent Networks

A group of Loon balloons creates a network that provides connectivity to people in a defined area in the same way a group of towers on the ground forms a terrestrial network. The difference is our “towers” are constantly moving with the winds. Our software is constantly learning to improve the choreography of the balloons, which improves the quality of the network. Our entire network can function autonomously, efficiently routing connectivity across balloons and ground stations while taking into account balloon motion, obstructions, and weather events.
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Delivering Connectivity

Loon’s greater coverage area enables mobile network operators to expand their coverage where it is needed. Loon transmits an operator’s signal from connection points on the ground, beams it across multiple balloons in the stratosphere, and then sends that signal back to a user’s LTE device. Our entire network can function autonomously, efficiently routing connectivity across balloons and ground stations while taking into account balloon motion, obstructions, and weather events.
Wireless internet signal is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from our Mobile Network Operator partner on the ground using a Loon-provided ground station.
Signal is relayed across the Loon balloon network.
Users’ standard LTE handsets connect to the mobile network through the Loon balloons.
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Landing And Recovery

Loon maintains continuous telemetry and command links with every balloon, tracking the location using GPS. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas keeping the balloon aloft is released and the parachute automatically deploys to control the landing. Descents are coordinated with local air traffic control to land the balloon safely in a sparsely populated area. Ground recovery teams then collect the equipment for reuse and recycling.

Post Flight Analysis

Once recovered, balloons are laid out on a giant scanner in the Loon lab to be inspected for microscopic holes and tears. This process paints a picture of how our balloons react to conditions in the stratosphere. Conducting this analysis provides insights to inform our design choices, enabling the team to develop balloons capable of increasingly longer flight durations.

About the Journey

See the evolution of Project Loon since its launch in 2013.