Four Google Loon balloons were spotted on radar today east and northeast of Saint Lucia at 60,000 feet. They originated from Puerto Rico and according to radar records tracked southeast over the Caribbean Sea and then over Dominica and Martinique, then passing east of Cap Estate, about 30 miles east over the Atlantic Ocean.
The current path of the balloons shows them heading in the direction of Barbados. The registration on the balloons are HBAL918, HBAL214, HBAL198, and HBAL219.
Project Loon is a research and development project being developed by X (formerly Google X) with the mission of providing Internet access to rural and remote areas. The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 18 km (11 mi) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds. It was named Project Loon, since even Google itself found the idea of providing Internet access to the remaining 5 billion population unprecedented and crazy/loony.
The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude in the stratosphere to float to a wind layer after identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction using wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider (ISP), then onto the global Internet. The system aims to bring Internet access to remote and rural areas poorly served by existing provisions, and to improve communication during natural disasters to affected regions. Key people involved in the project include Rich DeVaul, chief technical architect, who is also an expert on wearable technology; Mike Cassidy, a project leader; and Cyrus Behroozi, a networking and telecommunication lead.
The balloons use patch antennas – which are directional antennas – to transmit signals to ground stations or LTE users. Some smartphones with Google SIM cards can use Google Internet services. 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.
There have been a number of crashes of Google Loon balloons around the world since experimentation began in 2014.
Does Google have Internet plans for Saint Lucia?