Loon

Equipment

What communication equipment is on a Loon balloon?
There are two main radio transceivers on each balloon: a broad-coverage LTE base station (or “eNodeB”), which transmits internet connectivity directly to a user’s LTE-enabled phone, and a high-speed directional link used to connect balloons to one another and the internet infrastructure on the ground.
How fast is the internet access from Loon’s balloon
In user tests, we have observed internet speeds similar to that of current LTE/4G networks that many people are familiar with today.
How many people can one balloon serve?
Each balloon can provide coverage to a ground area about 80 km in diameter. With our current technology, a single balloon can serve thousands of subscribers. By adding additional balloons to a given service region, we can increase our capacity to serve more users.
How do you preserve the security and integrity of data transmitted over the Loon network?
Data is automatically encrypted while transiting the balloon network. We integrate with the core networks of our mobile network operator partner so data transmitted will have 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, 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 operations 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 all test and production flights outside of the US, there are never any cameras on board. On certain test flights operating only within the United States, we use cameras facing upwards to observe how various components of the balloon are functioning at high altitude.

Flight

Are the balloons stationary?
No. A group of Loon’s balloons creates a network that provides connectivity to people in a defined area in the same way a group of towers on the ground forms a terrestrial network. The difference is our towers are constantly moving with the winds in a given area. We provide continued connectivity below by ensuring that when one balloon moves away, another is nearby to replace it. Our system is constantly learning to improve the coordination of these balloons, which improves the quality of the network.
How high do the balloons fly?
We fly in the stratosphere well above commercial air traffic and weather events, at around 18 - 23 km or 60,000 - 75,000 feet.
For how long will a balloon fly?
We've created a balloon design that can reliably last for hundreds of days in the stratosphere. The current flight duration record is 300 days.
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 a number of unique engineering challenges. High in the stratosphere the air pressure is 1% of the level it is on the ground. This thin atmosphere offers little protection from UV radiation and dramatic temperature swings, which can reach -90 degrees celsius. By carefully designing the balloon envelope to withstand these conditions, 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 Loon’s 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 land?
When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas is released from the balloon and a parachute deploys automatically. The Loon team tracks the balloon location using GPS and coordinates directly with the local air traffic control to land safely in sparsely populated areas. Guided to the ground by the parachute, the balloon lands safely at a slow speed.
How do you collect the balloons after they have landed?
We land Loon balloons in sparsely populated yet accessible areas where our recovery specialists can retrieve them. We track our balloons continuously using GPS and coordinate descents with air traffic control. Once a landing is initiated, a recovery team is dispatched to ensure the equipment can be reused or recycled, or in some cases, responsibly disposed of.
Is there a risk of airplanes hitting the balloons?
At their floating altitude of 18 - 23 km (60,000 - 75,000 feet), Loon balloons fly well above commercial aircraft, so they are safely out of the way. Each balloon is equipped with a transponder that constantly transmits its position and altitude to air traffic control and any other aircraft in the vicinity. We 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 without magnification.
Do you need permission to fly these balloons?
Loon works closely with local and national governments, and while specific regulations differ from country to country, we comply with all applicable international and local laws as required in locations where we operate. In addition, Loon meets or exceeds the international standards for unmanned free balloons set by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These standards form the basis for many countries’ regulations around the world.
Can Loon fly internationally?
Yes, the balloons fly internationally. The United Nations body for civil aviation has provided technical and procedural information to all 191 member countries, encouraging them to allow Loon to overfly their territories. We work with countries that the balloons fly over, verifying that Loon meets or exceeds regulatory compliance. Safety is a top priority, and Loon will be one of the first upper-airspace operators to put an internationally recognized Safety Management System in place, ensuring continuous safety improvement day in and day out.
Are there other balloons like those used by Loon?
Loon is pioneering the use of high-altitude balloons to provide internet connectivity below, making significant advancements in balloon science and engineering along the way. While Loon is the most advanced balloon-based technology, there is a precedent for other high-altitude balloon flights collecting environmental and other data useful for the scientific community, with approximately 70,000 weather balloons launched every year. However, weather balloons reach a certain height before they burst, whereas Loon balloons are designed to stay aloft in the stratosphere for over 200 days at a time, and be brought back to the ground in a controlled and coordinated manner.
How is Loon different from satellite connectivity?
Loon balloons fly at an altitude of 20 km. The closest satellites operate at an altitude of 300 to 1,000 km in what is known as low earth orbit, while other satellites operate in geostationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000 km. This means that Loon vehicles are 15 to 1,800 times closer to earth than satellites. Because of this difference in distance, Loon can provide LTE service directly to standard off-the-shelf consumer handsets. By contrast, satellites require the use of expensive terminals with high power consumption. In addition, this altitude advantage means that Loon can deliver lower latency and higher capacity density, defined as the number of Mbps per square kilometer. The higher the capacity density, the more users that a Mobile Service Operator can support in a given area. Another difference with satellites is the targeted nature of Loon deployment. Low earth orbit satellites whiz around the earth at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Because they are never in one place for long, a large constellation, consisting of hundreds to tens of thousands of satellites, is required -- even if all you want is to deliver service to a small area. By contrast, Loon balloons are quasi-stationary, requiring a smaller number of vehicles to deliver service to a smaller area. This enables a Mobile Service Operator to start service and expand the fleet as their business grows. Finally, because Loon vehicles fly for 4-7 months instead of years like satellites, Loon is able to implement a much faster technology refresh cycle, leveraging the most current technology available.

General

What is Loon?
Loon’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies. By leveraging these advanced technologies, Loon is making it possible to expand internet access to the billions of people who currently lack it. Loon works with a range of partners to expand and supplement existing networks and enable new solutions that will meet the connectivity needs of the future. To date, Loon’s stratospheric balloons have travelled more than 40 million kilometers around the world and connected hundreds of thousands of people.
How does the end user connect to the internet using Loon?
Because Loon’s balloons are essentially floating cell towers, end users will access the internet in much the same way as connecting to the mobile internet using a smartphone today. Customers will not necessarily know they are connected to a Loon balloon, aside from the fact that they may receive a signal in a location where one did not previously exist. A customer needs to have a SIM card of the mobile network operator partnering with Loon and an LTE-enabled smartphone. No additional special equipment is required. Loon is not an Internet Service Provider.
Where is Loon planning to provide internet access?
Loon is focused on bringing connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. We are in discussions with telecommunications companies and governments worldwide to provide a solution to help extend internet connectivity to these underserved areas.
What steps is Loon taking to be environmentally responsible?
Loon is committed to ensuring that as we expand our solutions across the globe we’re doing so in an environmentally responsible manner. In terms of our materials, we are working to guide all balloons to landing zones upon descent, so we can reuse, recycle, or responsibly dispose of their parts. In addition, unlike traditional cell towers that can be energy-intensive, our balloon is entirely solar-powered and self-sufficient, and does not require ground-based electricity to operate. We are also working to make our stratospheric wind data available to the environmental science community so it can be used to improve weather and climate models. Contact us here for more information about working together.
My school, family, non-profit or business would like internet access from Loon. How do I get Loon service for my need?
Loon’s goal is to connect people currently not served or underserved by existing service providers. Responding to a request for access for a given area or organization requires a number of things in place beforehand, including:

  • Network integration with a telecom partner (or their roaming partner, AT&T)
  • Installed Loon ground infrastructure in the region
  • Spectrum access and operating authority from local regulators
  • Overflight permissions to operate above the region needing connectivity
  • Balloons in the region or nearby

Once these components are in place, our floating cell towers can rapidly connect people on the ground. If you are an individual, school or business seeking internet access for your specific needs, contact your service provider about gaining internet access in your area.
My area has had a natural disaster. How can I get Loon to respond with internet access to my community?
Responding to a natural disaster for a given area requires a number of things in place beforehand, including:

  • Network integration with a telecom partner (or their roaming partner, AT&T)
  • Installed Loon ground infrastructure in the region
  • Spectrum access and operating authority from local regulators
  • Overflight permissions to operate above the region needing connectivity
  • Balloons in the region or nearby

Once these components are in place, our floating cell towers can rapidly connect people on the ground. If you are in a natural disaster area, your best course of action is to ask your mobile network operator for assistance. They may be able to coordinate with Loon to provide internet access to your area.

Partners

I’m interested in partnering with Loon to bring service to my area. How can I partner with Loon?
Loon is committed to extending connectivity to underserved and unserved communities around the world. This typically requires having a few elements in place, including a partnership with a mobile network operator in a specific country, appropriate regulatory approvals, and setting up the necessary ground infrastructure. If you are a mobile network operator or government interested in how Loon can help you extend connectivity, please contact us here.
What kind of spectrum will be used?
Loon uses our partner’s LTE spectrum to provide service directly to their customers’ smartphones. The system is designed to allow customers to seamlessly access their mobile network provider’s network.
Does Loon interfere with current LTE networks?
Loon works with mobile network operators in each country in which we operate to share and coordinate use of LTE spectrum. The coverage provided through Loon coexists with the cell tower coverage of our partner network operator. Loon works closely with the partner network operator to optimize the radio parameters and implement interference mitigation strategies along with Loon’s Self-Optimizing Network (SON) solution.