Did you see the Loon? We didn’t either, but it sure was there. But what is it?
On Tuesday afternoon at least one pilot reported seeing something a little bit different on his radar in the skies over Corpus Christi. It was properly identified and officials at Houston Center were well aware of its location, direction and behavior. In fact, it was a balloon, but not just any old balloon. This one that soared well above commercial aviation at some 50,000 feet above ground level just happened to part of Project Loon.
Project Loon has one goal, it’s parent company Google says. They say that the balloons exist to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies. By redesigning the essential components of a cell tower so they can be carried by balloon 13-14 miles above Earth, Loon makes it possible to extend internet access to the billions who currently lack it. Using a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, Loon works with mobile network operators to expand their coverage to unserved and underserved communities, supplement existing networks, and provide expedient coverage after natural disasters. To date, Loon’s balloons have travelled more than 30 million miles around the world.
But the funny thing about this “Loon” balloon, is that it may have actually helped you achieve better signal on your smartphone or mobile device as it soured overhead. Because Loon’s balloons are essentially floating cell towers, an end-user will access the internet in much the same way s/he would connect to the mobile internet using a smartphone. A customer 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 that is partnering with Loon and an LTE-enabled smartphone. In short, Loon is not an Internet service provider but they do provide Internet to many major mobile data companies.
According to Google, these balloons can stay aloft for 100 days or more. This particular balloon left Winnamucca, Nevada back on September 25 and has circled the Midwest and then down to the Gulf off Mexico and his heading west southwest again.
For most of us it is not a very big deal but to some folks, the technology that flew overhead on Tuesday is nothing short of amazing.