Google Project Loon: Around the world in 22 days

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) keeps whetting the public's appetite for its airborne Internet effort dubbed Project Loon. In its latest missive, posted on Google+, the company relayed the journey of Loon balloon Ibis-167, which circumnavigated the earth in 22 days by riding stratospheric winds.

In a video released on YouTube last November, Google said each Project Loon balloon would do three laps around the globe over 100 days, which means Ibis-167's pace was much faster than normal. Stratospheric conditions had a lot to do with that.

According to Google, Ibis-167 initially "enjoyed a few loop-de-loops" over the Pacific Ocean before heading southward and catching the "Roaring Forties," which are strong west-to-east winds in the southern hemisphere that considerably speeded up the balloon's journey.

Ibis-167 has actually just begun its second lap, clocking, as Google noted, "the project's 500,000th kilometer" in the process.

Google Loon Ibis 167
Loon balloon Ibis-167's flightpath provides an illustration of the wind patterns in the stratosphere this time of year. (Source: Google)

In June 2013, Google announced its vision of deploying a ring of radio-equipped balloons to fly around the globe on stratospheric winds 12 miles above the earth and deliver Internet access at 3G or better speeds to unserved and underserved regions. At the time, the company launched an initial 30 balloons and initiated a pilot program in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers. Since then, Google has also begun launching balloons from California.

The wind data that Google has been collecting since last summer has helped the company refine models for forecasting balloon trajectories. Those advancements helped Ibis-167 maneuver the unsettled stratospheric winds that are common this time of year and which actually change direction as the southern hemisphere's seasons shift from warmer to colder weather.

Google has also improved the efficiency of the air pump in its balloons, enabling them to change altitudes quickly to catch winds moving in different directions.

"There were times, for example, when this balloon could have been pulled into the polar vortex--large, powerful wind currents that whip around in a circle near the stratosphere in the polar region--but these improvements enabled us to maneuver around it and stay on course," Google said.

For more:
- see this Google+ post

Related articles:
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Google's Project Loon antennas will get more sophisticated
Google's Project Loon is full of hot air, contends famed balloonist
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