Frequently Asked Questions

BASIC

WHAT ARE PROJECT LOON BALLOONS?

Project Loon is a global network of high altitude balloons. The balloons ascend like weather balloons until they reach the stratosphere, where they sail at an altitude of roughly 20 km (65,000 ft), safely above the altitudes used for aviation. While weather balloons burst after only a few hours in the air, Loon balloons are superpressured, allowing them to last much longer. Loon balloons are also unique in that they can sail the wind to travel where they need to go, they can coordinate with other balloons as a flock, and their electronics are entirely solar powered.

IS PROJECT LOON AN INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER?

No, all end-users will connect via Loon to the existing network operators in their country that partner with Project Loon. Loon balloons act as floating cell towers, allowing local telecommunications companies to extend their coverage into areas that are currently unserved.

HOW DO I RECEIVE INTERNET SERVICE FROM THE BALLOONS?

Upon commercial launch, to access the Internet through Project Loon, the user will just need to have a sim card of the local Mobile Network Operator that is partnering with us and an LTE-enabled phone. Web traffic that travels through the balloon network is ultimately relayed to our local telecommunications partners' ground stations where it connects to their pre-existing Internet infrastructure.

WHERE IS PROJECT LOON PLANNING TO PROVIDE INTERNET ACCESS?

Project Loon is focused on bringing connectivity to rural and remote areas. We are in discussions with telecommunications companies and governments worldwide to provide a solution to help extend Internet connectivity to these underserved areas.

WHEN DO YOU EXPECT THE SERVICE TO BE AVAILABLE?

It's too early to say; we've learned a lot from millions of kilometers of test flights and we're using those learnings to refine the technology and improve the Loon system as we begin to scale.

WHAT STEPS ARE PROJECT LOON TAKING TO BE ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE?

We are taking several steps to ensure Project Loon is environmentally responsible:

  • We're working to guide all balloons to collection points upon descent, so we can reuse, recycle, or responsibly dispose of their parts.
  • When balloons do not make it to one of these collection points, we send our recovery team out to collect them.
  • Our balloon equipment is entirely solar powered.
  • We are working to make our stratospheric wind data available to the environmental science community so it can be used to improve weather and climate models.

EQUIPMENT

WHAT COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT IS ON A BALLOON?

There are two main radio transceivers on each balloon: a broad-coverage LTE base station (or “eNodeB”), and a high-speed directional link used to connect between balloons and back down to the Internet.

HOW FAST IS BALLOON-POWERED INTERNET?

In user tests, we have observed Internet speeds similar to that of current LTE/4G networks that many people get on their phones today.

HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN ONE BALLOON SERVE?

Each balloon can provide coverage to a ground area about 80 km in diameter, and with our current design a single balloon can serve thousands of subscribers.

IN 2013, PROJECT LOON USED WIFI FOR TESTS IN NEW ZEALAND. IS WIFI STILL BEING USED TO CONNECT USERS TO THE BALLOONS?

No, the technology connecting the user to the balloon is LTE/4G. WiFi was used in a previous iteration of Loon experiments but starting in mid-2014, only LTE has been used, allowing for connectivity to be delivered direct-to-phone in partnership with mobile operators.

HOW DO YOU PRESERVE THE SECURITY AND INTEGRITY OF DATA TRANSMITTED OVER THE LOON NETWORK?

Data is automatically encrypted while transiting the balloon network. Upon commercial launch, we will integrate with the core networks of partners so data transmitted will have no less than the same levels of encryption and authentication as those networks.

WHAT ELECTRONICS ARE ON THE BALLOON?

In addition to the specialized radios that provide Internet service to users on the ground, Loon balloons carry instruments to monitor the weather and ambient environmental conditions as well as GPS units to keep track of their flight patterns and an aviation transponder to report the balloons position to air traffic control. The electronics are powered by solar panels, and excess power is stored in a rechargeable battery so service can continue through the night.

HOW ARE THE BALLOONS POWERED?

The equipment on the balloons is powered by solar panels during the day and a rechargeable battery during the night.

WILL THE BALLOONS HAVE CAMERAS OR CAPTURE ANY IMAGERY OF THE GROUND?

For test flights outside of the US there are never any cameras on board, and at production none of our balloons will be equipped with any cameras. In the short term and only on certain test flights operating within the United States only, we use cameras to observe how various components of the balloon are functioning at high altitude.

FLIGHT

ARE THE BALLOONS STATIONARY?

No, the balloons are carried along on stratospheric winds and are constantly in motion. By predicting the movements of different wind patterns in the stratosphere we aim to ensure that as one balloon sails off with the wind, there is another ready to take it's place to continue providing connectivity on the ground below.

HOW HIGH DO THE BALLOONS FLY?

We are flying in the stratosphere well above commercial air traffic and weather events, at around 18 - 23 km or 60,000 - 75,000 feet.

HOW LONG WILL A BALLOON STAY UP IN THE AIR?

We're working on creating a balloon design that can reliably last for 100+ days at a time in the stratosphere.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE EXTREME CONDITIONS IN THE STRATOSPHERE?

Situated on the edge of space, between 10 km and 60 km in altitude, the stratosphere presents unique engineering challenges: high in the stratosphere the air pressure is 1% that at sea level, and this thin atmosphere offers little protection from UV radiation and dramatic temperature swings. 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.

HOW IS THE MOVEMENT OF THESE BALLOONS CONTROLLED?

The positioning of the Loon fleet is adjusted and controlled in real-time from Loon Mission Control, using a combination of automatic planning algorithms and human oversight.

HOW WILL THE BALLOONS COME DOWN?

When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas is released from the balloon and the parachute deploys automatically. The Project Loon team tracks the balloon location using GPS and coordinates directly with the local air traffic control to bring the balloon safely to the ground in sparsely populated areas.

HOW DO YOU COLLECT THE BALLOONS AFTER THEY HAVE LANDED?

We aim to bring Project Loon balloons down in sparsely populated and accessible areas. The Project Loon team includes recovery specialists who track down and collect landed balloons. We track our balloons continuously using GPS, and so once we have worked with air traffic control to bring the balloons to land, the recovery team will be on their way to collect the equipment for reuse and recycling.

IS THERE RISK OF AIRPLANES HITTING THE BALLOONS?

At their floating altitude, Loon balloons fly much higher than commercial jetliners, so they are well out of the way. Each balloon is equipped with a transponder that can constantly transmit location to local air-traffic control and ADS-B enabled airplanes throughout the balloon's flight. We always coordinate directly with local air-traffic control when balloons are launched, throughout their flight, and when they descend.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO SEE THE BALLOONS FROM THE GROUND?

In certain weather conditions it may be possible to see a Loon balloon from the ground as a small white dot in the sky. Most of the time they will be very difficult to see with the naked eye.

DO YOU NEED PERMISSION TO FLY THESE BALLOONS?

The laws applicable to high altitude balloon flight and telecommunications services differ from country to country, and we comply with all applicable laws as required.

CAN PROJECT LOON FLY INTERNATIONALLY?

Loon works with civil aviation authorities and air navigation service providers wherever we fly. We also work cooperatively with the International Civil Aviation Organization (the civil aviation arm of the United Nations). ICAO have communicated Loon's compliance with international aviation regulations to all 191 UN countries, as well as sharing a set of operational standards which can be used internationally.

ARE THERE OTHER BALLOONS LIKE THOSE USED BY PROJECT LOON?

Although not quite the same, there is a precedent for high-altitude balloon flights, with approximately 70,000 weather balloons launched every year. However, weather balloons reach a certain height before they burst, whereas Project Loon balloons are designed to stay aloft in the stratosphere for over 100 days at a time. There are similar balloons that are used by other organisations to collect environmental and other data useful to the scientific community, but this is the first time that long-duration balloons of this kind have been used with the aim of providing Internet connectivity.

PARTNERS

WHICH TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES ARE YOU PARTNERING WITH?

Project Loon has conducted connectivity tests with Vodafone in New Zealand, Telefonica in Brazil, and Telstra in Australia. Loon also has a testing agreement with Telkomsel, Indosat, and XL Axiata in Indonesia. We are open to partnering with telecommunications companies interested in extending Internet connectivity to rural and remote areas in their countries.

WHAT KIND OF SPECTRUM WILL BE USED?

We enter into agreements with our mobile operator partners to use their licensed LTE spectrum to serve their end-users, using the balloon network with the mobile operator's core network.

DOES LOON INTERFERE WITH CURRENT LTE NETWORKS?

Project Loon partners with telecommunications companies in each country we operate to share and coordinate use of LTE spectrum. Upon commercial launch, the coverage provided through Project Loon will co-exist with the the cell tower coverage of our partner network operator and will not not interfere with that signal in any way.

I'M INTERESTED IN PARTNERING WITH PROJECT LOON. HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

We're looking for partners who share our goal of bringing connectivity to rural and remote areas. Please fill out this form, and we'll be in touch if there is an opportunity to work together. In the meantime, you can follow the latest happenings with Project Loon on our Google+ Page.