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.