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Valley Public Radio Staff
Fri August 9, 2013
Google's 'Project Loon' Takes to the Skies Over Fresno
Tech giant Google has turned to the skies above Fresno as the latest site for a test of an experimental balloon-based internet technology.
The company posted information about "Project Loon" on its Google+ page on Thursday, detailing the Fresno flight, which took place in late July. The company envisions "Project Loon" as a "network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters."
Google first demonstrated the technology in New Zealand in June. It says the Fresno test site was chosen both for its proximity to the company's Mountain View headquarters, and its relatively flat terrain.
The Central Valley is a great location for Loon’s research flights because it is close to Google’s Mountain View headquarters, yet removed from dense populations and air traffic. There are favorable weather and wind conditions and it is mostly flat farmland, which allows us to track and follow the balloons quite easily.
The company says the Fresno flight was important in that it let them test critical components of the system in an area filled with other radio signals, which could generate interference.
On our most recent research flight we overflew Fresno, a nearby city, to get statistics on how the presence of lots of other radio signals (signal-noise) in cities affects our ability to transmit Internet. It turns out that providing Internet access to a busy city is hard because there are already many other radio signals around, and the balloons’ antennas pick up a lot of that extra noise. This increases the error-rate in decoding the Loon signal, so the signal has to be transmitted multiple times, decreasing the effective bandwidth.
Project Loon's balloons are designed to fly around 12 miles above the earth. The hot air balloons are networked together and steerable. Solar panels provide the units with power and batteries allow for overnight use. It's unknown when the technology might be publicly released.