Google’s balloon-powered high-speed internet service known as “Project Loon” has started testing in Kenya. They released approximately ten balloons around Marsabit, Nyeri, Nanyuki and Nakuru last month. The development program will provide high internet speeds within the areas. So what is project Loon?

Project Loon

It is a network of giant balloons traveling on the edge of space, build with the audacious goal of beaming internet access to people in rural and remote areas worldwide. The project is a part of the x unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet.


Loon project leader Mike Cassidy poses with the earliest payload prototype.

The pilot test and several other tests elsewhere in the world are being used to improve the technology in preparation for the next stages of the project.

Top 5 amazing Technologies in Project Loon

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Project Loon balloons travel approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere, well above airplanes, wildlife, and weather events. In the stratosphere winds are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction.

To get balloons to where they need to go, Project Loon uses predictive models of the winds and decision-making algorithms to move each balloon up or down into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction(Clustering balloons).

All these takes place in flight capsule which contains the brains of the system for command and control of the Loon balloon.

By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to provide coverage where it’s needed. Before, the project used control algorithms that are hard-coded( human-coded algorithms). This kind of automation frees the team up to work on other problems.

2. Wireless Connectivity — IoT

The balloons carry a small package of communications devices which include Transceivers. In radio electronics, a transceiver is basically a transmitter and a receiver in a single package. They are used to transmit connectivity from ground stations, across balloons, and back down to users’ LTE phones.

Initially it was planned that Google would purchase proprietary space on the radio spectrum so Loon balloons could operate independently of existing wireless networks. But Google has done away with that plan and instead balloons will be leased to cellular companies like Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya.

The balloons use patch antennas (directional antennas) to transmit signals to ground stations or LTE users.

Google has demonstrated data transmission between balloons over 100 km apart in the stratosphere and back down to people on the ground with connection speeds of up to 10 Mbps, directly to their LTE phones.

3. Green Energy — Solar

Project Loon has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light enough and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up in the stratosphere.

It has a small box under the balloon which 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 Loon

All these are powered by an array of solar panels mounted at a steep angle to effectively capture sunlight at higher latitudes. The panels can produce about 100 Watts of power in full sun, enough to keep the electronics running, along with charging a battery for use at night.

4. Long Term Evolution — LTE/4G

The whole infrastructure is based on LTE; the eNodeB component (the equivalent of the “base station” that talks directly to handsets) is carried in the balloon. Initially, the balloons communicated using WiFi (unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ISM bands), but they then switched to LTE.

Long-term evolution (LTE), also known as 4G, is a rapidly growing common global technology that’s continuously evolving to offer unprecedented data rates, higher capacity, and new levels of user experience.

The LTE specification provides downlink peak rates of 300 Mbit/s, uplink peak rates of 75 Mbit/s and QoS provisions permitting a transfer latency of less than 5 ms in the radio access network. LTE has the ability to manage fast-moving mobiles and supports multi-cast and broadcast streams. LTE supports scalable carrier bandwidths, from 1.4 MHz to 20 MHz and supports both frequency division duplexing (FDD) and time-division duplexing (TDD).

LTE is overlaid on 3G network and therefore supports Seamless LTE/3G interworking. 3G provides a consistent broadband experience when users move outside LTE coverage, and voice services across the network. 3G also enables global voice and data roaming for LTE devices.

 Working on a Telecom Kenya Orange site (TKL Project) in Nairobi early this year. The project involved upgrading the sites to 4G LTE.

5. GPS — Reuse and recycling

Project Loon team tracks the location of every balloon using GPS, coordinating directly with the local air traffic control to bring each one safely to ground targeting sparsely populated areas. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas keeping the balloon aloft is released and the parachute deploys automatically to bring the balloon to the ground in a controlled descent. The recovery teams then collect the equipment for reuse and recycling.

Other companies

Google is not the only company set on bringing the internet to the masses. Facebook’s connectivity lab is also working on AQUILA, a solar-powered aircraft with a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737, that can stay up for months on end hoping to do the same.

Other projects from X — The moonshot Factory

Read about project Soli, a sensing technology that uses miniature radar to detect touch less gesture interactions.

racking Project Loon Balloons

Here is how to Keep Your Eye on the Balloons.

ADS-B receiver is among the equipment contained in the helium balloons. This surveillance technology enable them to be tracked making them visible on Flightradar24.

The easiest way to find a Loon balloon is to just look for the balloon icon on the map. You’re most likely to see a Loon balloon over the equator. To search directly for a Loon balloon, use call sign “HBAL”.

Note that these balloons do not necessarily transmit their type, some may appear as aircraft icons until Flightradar24 updates them on their database.

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