A high-altitude Google Internet balloon crashed to earth in Kenya over the weekend, alarming residents near the Nthambiro farm where it landed but without causing any damage or injuries. The balloon was one of 10 launched in July as part of Project Loon, all part of program testing in Kenya.
The balloons, meant to bring Internet connectivity to parts of the world with limited power access and other infrastructure, are designed to fly in earth’s stratosphere for about 100 days before landing on earth during a controlled descent process. They are then replaced with new balloons. Local authorities told The Nation that this balloon returned to earth after completing its six-month test period.
“Project Loon has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light enough and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 kilometers up,” the company explains. Each balloon provides coverage for about 5,000 square kilometers, in partnership with local governments and service providers.
“When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas keeping the balloon aloft is released and the parachute deploys automatically to bring the balloon to the ground in a controlled descent,” the Project Loon team said. “Our recovery teams then collect the equipment for reuse and recycling.”
Those landings are intentionally coordinated so that only remote areas are affected. Project Loon staff evaluate wind speeds, contact air traffic controllers and select sites that ideally have easy road access while still remaining far from populated areas. Then, using the GPS coordinates, they retrieve the fallen balloon for further data study and to recover materials.
To learn more about how Project Loon recovers its high-altitude balloons, check here.
Image: Project Loon file