Published on Nov 28, 2023
The Internet is one of the most transformative technologies of our lifetimes. But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach. And this is far from being a solved problem.
There are many terrestrial challenges to Internet connectivity—jungles, archipelagos, mountains. There are also major cost challenges. Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles.
“PROJECT LOON” is one such initiative taken up by Google to solve the above mentioned problems. Team Loon believes that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below. They have built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, they hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters. The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon,but there’s solid science behind it.
Fig 1.2 Balloon
The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude 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. 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.
In 2008, Google had considered contracting with or acquiring Space Data Corp., a company that sends balloons carrying small base stations about 20 miles (32 km) up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies in the southern United States, but didn't do so 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 14 June 2013.
Project Loon relies mainly on three parts which are as follows:
The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope. A well-made balloon envelope is critical for allowing a balloon to last around 100 days in the stratosphere. Loon’s balloon envelopes are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic, and they measure fifteen meters wide by twelve meters tall when fully inflated. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, gas is released from the envelope to bring the balloon down to Earth in a controlled descent. In the unlikely event that a balloon drops too quickly, a parachute attached to the top of the envelope is deployed.
Each balloon’s electronics are powered by an array of solar panels. The solar array is a flexible plastic laminate supported by a light-weight aluminum frame. It uses high efficiency monocrystalline solar cells. The solar array is mounted at a steep angle to effectively capture sunlight on short winter days at higher latitudes. The array is divided into two sections facing in opposite directions, allowing us to capture energy in any orientation as the balloons spin slowly in the wind. The panels produce approximately 100 Watts of power in full sun, which is enough to keep Loon’s electronics running while also charging a battery for use at night. By moving with the wind and charging in the sun, Project Loon is able to power itself using entirely renewable energy sources.
A small box containing the balloon’s electronics hangs underneath the inflated envelope, like the basket carried by a hot air balloon. This box contains circuit boards that control the system, radio antennas to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennas on the ground, and lithium ion batteries to store solar power so the balloons can operate throughout the night.
Inside each box is a mini-command center: radio sensors, satellite receivers, and WiFi electronics, along with a stack of custom Google X circuit-boards. These computers measure acceleration, take temperature measurements, run communications between satellite and WiFi networks, and who knows what else. This is how Google Mission Control talks to each Loon and tells it what to do.
The loon antenna shaped in circular manner marking the symbolism of balloon. They are attached to the households or workplaces wherever the internet connectivity needs to be established.
The Loon Antenna consists of the following parts
The top part of the interior of the shell is composed of a reflector disc, a pair of parallel patch antenna (radiating elements) perched a few inches above the disc, and a pair of cables leading down to the radio, which lives in the bottom half of the bulb.
The patch antenna receive reflected radio waves from the reflector disc as well as direct waves. The two sources interfere constructively for the correct wavelength to be received. The radio transmits signals to the devices.
It was hard to make a super-pressure balloon. Instead of bursting, the balloon slowly leaked helium, bringing it down after just a day or two in flight. “Even a millimeter-sized hole will bring a balloon like this down in a couple days,” Cassidy says. “And that’s what happened to the next 40 or 50 balloons we made.”
Google’s engineers spent weeks trying to isolate the problem. They took balloons out of their boxes and inflated them in a cavernous hangar at Moffett Field in Mountain View, shined polarized light through them, and even sniffed for helium leaks using a mass spectrometer. Each balloon that went down was subjected to a “failure analysis” that included poring over meticulous records of who had assembled it, where, and using what equipment, and how it had been transported.
Eventually they pinned the leaks on two sets of problems. One was that the balloons had to be folded several times over to be transported, and some developed tiny tears at the corners where they’d been folded repeatedly. Google set to work finding ways to fold and roll the balloons that would distribute the stress more evenly across the fabric.
The second problem was that some balloons were ripping slightly when workers stepped on the fabric with their socks. The solution to that problem? “Fluffier socks,” says Cassidy. “Seriously, that made a difference. Softer socks meant fewer leaks.”
As the team cut down on the leaks, the balloons started lasting longer: four days, then six, then several weeks at a time. As of November, Cassidy says, two out of every three balloons remain in the sky for at least 100 days.
But keeping the balloons airborne is only the first of the monumental problems that the project presented. Keeping them on course may be even harder.
When Google first announced the project, I pictured brightly colored vessels hovering in place a few hundred or thousand feet over their respective target villages, perhaps tethered to the world’s longest ropes. The reality is far more complex—and fascinating.
WORKING OF LOON
Project Loon balloons travel approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Winds in the stratosphere are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction. Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network. Situated on the edge of space, between 10 km and 60 km in altitude, the stratosphere presents unique engineering challenges: air pressure is 1% that at sea level, and this thin atmosphere offers less protection from UV radiation and dramatic temperature swings, which can reach as low as -80°C. By carefully designing the balloon envelope to withstand these conditions, Project Loon is able to take advantage of the stratosphere’s steady winds and remain well above weather events, wildlife and airplanes.
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.
The high-altitude polyethylene balloons fly around the world on the prevailing winds (mostly in a direction parallel with lines of latitude, i.e. east or west). Solar panels supplied by PowerFilm, Inc about the size of a card table that are just below the free-flying balloons generate enough electricity in four hours to power the transmitter for a day and beam down the Internet signal to ground stations. These ground stations are spaced about 100 km (62 mi) apart, or two balloon hops, and bounce the signal to other relay balloons that send the signal back down.
This makes Internet access available to anyone in the world who has a receiver and is within range of a balloon. Currently, the balloons communicate using unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ISM bands, and Google claims that the setup allows it to deliver "speeds comparable to 3G" to users. 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.
Powering it all is a 600-watt battery, charged by solar panels on a carbon fiber frame atop the box. These large, extra-light photovoltaic cells -- amorphous silicon crystals on a fabric substrate -- keep the weight of the balloon low so that the Loons can run for long missions without landing. During the daytime, the batteries charge, and at night they switch on, to vent out excess air and keep the computers running.
Each Loon balloon has three radio frequency antennas (on 2.4 Ghz and 5.8 Ghz bands) and a ground-pointing WiFi antenna, which beams an Internet signal to Earth in a 12-mile radius. And though the balloons are mostly steerable, Google has done a lot of programming to make them work on their own as well; In addition to Mission Control, Google's Loon balloons can talk to each other, and control themselves."We use a distributed mesh network, so each balloon is pretty autonomous and has pretty much the same hardware in it," Sameera Ponda, a lead aerospace engineer at the Dos Palos site that day, said on the video stream. "As one balloon floats over a certain area that balloon is talking to the ground antennas, and as that balloon floats away, another balloon comes in and takes its place, so it's a pretty seamless operation."
On 16 June 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. 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.
The first person to get Google Balloon Internet access this week was Charles Nimmo, a farmer and entrepreneur in the small town of Leeston. He found the experience a little bemusing after he was one of 50 locals who signed up to be a tester for a project that was so secret, no one would explain to them what was happening. Technicians came to the volunteers' homes and attached to the outside walls bright red receivers the size of basketballs and resembling giant Google map pins.
In May 2014 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. In 2014 Google partnered with France's Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES) on the project.
Each balloon would provide Internet service for an area twice the size of New York City, about 1,250 square kilometres, and terrain is not a challenge. They could stream Internet into Afghanistan's steep and winding Khyber Pass or Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, a country where the World Bank estimates four out of every 100 people are online.
Google engineers studied balloon science from NASA, the Defense Department and the Jet Propulsion Lab to design their own airships made of plastic films similar to grocery bags. Hundreds have been built so far.
Recovery of balloon
Balloons are controlled by raising and lowering them to an altitude with winds blowing in the desired direction of travel. We plan to take our balloons down over preselected, safe recovery zones so we can easily collect them to reuse and recycle their parts. In the event of an unexpected landing, every Loon balloon is equipped with a parachute to slow its descent.
The Project Loon team includes several recovery specialists who track down and collect landed balloons. We track our balloons continuously in the air using GPS and we take note of their location when they land. Once the landing location is known, the recovery team will be on their way. Ultimately, we plan to land the balloons in various collection points around the world.
Google's vision for Project Loon procures schooling for those currently without education, brings doctors for people who cannot travel to see one, and provides important weather data to assist farmers, whose harvests are affected by droughts and floods.
Illiteracy, Disease and Famine could be dealt a swift and telling blow with a little Wi-Fi and according to Team Loon, balloons stationed so high above the earth they can only be seen with a telescope, is the most affordable and best way to achieve this.
"The materials are pretty inexpensive," says Project Loon's Richard DeVaul. "The plastic of the balloons is similar to that in shopping bags and the electronics aren't that different from consumer electronics. This is a very cost-effective way to connect the world."
There is near about 75% comment is in the favor of project loons. As per the experts there would be great Success for this Project in Future. And we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters.
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