Meet our team
Sameera Ponda, Aerospace Engineer
In her first year at MIT, Sam took "Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design,” a class in which she learned what engineering was all about. The final project was to build a balloon-style blimp that could fly around the gym as fast as possible. Enjoying the application of math and science towards useful purposes, she decided to major in Aerospace Engineering. Sam went on to receive her PhD from MIT in the same field, focusing on how to design controllers for aerial vehicles and how to do autonomous fleet management and operations in uncertain environments.
These experiences led Sam to Loon, where she leads the Planning, Simulation, and Controls software team, developing algorithms for balloon navigation, autonomous fleet management, wind fusion and forecasting, monitoring fleet health and safety, and simulating future projected paths. Sam and her team also work closely with the business and engineering teams to analyze balloon performance and make decisions about the overall system, such as fleet sizing, how many batteries and solar panels we need, and what our optimal antenna choices are.
Brian Barritt, Engineering
A lifelong enthusiast of computers, wireless networks, and space, Brian found a new research laboratory at NASA while looking for a graduate research project, and jumped at the opportunity to work at the lab, which combined computer network systems engineering, design, simulation, and emulation for intelligent space communications networks. He later pursued opportunities in exotic wireless networks in industry, including heart implant wireless communications, space networks, next generation WiFi networks, and high-altitude solar gliders. Brian earned his PhD from Case Western Reserve University, where his dissertation focused on the modeling, simulation, and operational control of aerospace communication networks.
At Loon, Brian leads the Networking team on Loon which is responsible for ensuring that packets can transit each of our atmospheric satellites, across a multi-hop mesh network in the stratosphere, down to Earth, across terrestrial Fiber, through our partner networks, and on to the Internet.
Leonard Bouygues, Aviation
With his keen interest in engineering and appetite for business, Leonard earned a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Imperial College and two master’s degrees in management, one from HEC Paris and one from MIT. Leonard’s unique background and passion for aviation made him an excellent fit for the Loon team, where he began working with international regulators to secure required permissions, a role for which his French fluency came in handy.
Leonard manages Loon’s airborne operations -- Loon Mission Control -- which runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, handling the balloons from the moment they leave the ground until the moment they are guided back down to Earth. Loon Mission Control works with air-traffic control services, aviation authorities, and civil and military aviation authorities around the world to agree on operational procedures for this entirely new system. Leonard and the team of systems experts constantly monitor the airborne fleet to ensure safety and compliance with regulations.
Amrita Lonkar, Hardware Reliability Engineer
As a young girl growing up in a conservative town in India, Amrita had a love of math and physics, but was not expected to pursue a career in technology. Amrita first got access to the Internet in college at IIT Kanpur in India where she was able to apply to Stanford, the school from which she earned a master’s degree and a PhD in aerospace engineering. At Stanford, Amrita developed numerical methods to simulate planetary entry of spacecraft. At Loon, Amrita is responsible for the reliability of our communication system, ensuring that it is able to endure the challenging conditions in the stratosphere. By reproducing stratospheric conditions in the lab, Amrita and the design engineers can catch issues early to fix and validate the system design before the flight. Amrita is humbled by the opportunity to pay it forward at Loon, by providing Internet access to people in developing communities around the world.