In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Google’s Project Loon has restored some communication in Puerto Rico. The effort includes the launch of a team of balloons from Nevada, to create a communication network.
Project Loon personnel have worked with the FCC, the FAA, FEMA, spectrum partners, international aviation authorities and AT&T. The project is reported to have delivered emergency Internet service to the hardest hit parts of Puerto Rico. The balloons have enabled basic communication and internet activities, such as sending text messages and accessing information online, for people with LTE-enabled phones.
The balloons are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic measuring 15 meters wide by 12 meters tall when fully inflated. Google says that a well-made balloon envelope is critical for allowing a balloon to last around 100 days in the stratosphere.
The balloons travel about 20 kilometers above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Google says that each layer of the stratosphere carries winds of different speeds and directions. Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network.