X, the research division of Google parent Alphabet, said this week it has hired Tom Moore, a senior VP at satellite company ViaSat, to take the reins at Project Loon. Mike Cassidy, who has been in charge of Loon, will remain at the company's X lab to develop new research projects, Bloomberg reported.
The goal of Project Loon is to beam internet service from balloons floating in the stratosphere down to the 4 billion or so people who don't currently have a good connection. The project calls for "flying cell towers" that talk to each other in the stratosphere and ultimately provide uninterrupted internet service. The company has deals with Vodafone, Telefonica and Telstra, and is talking to others.
“Under Mike’s scrappy, entrepreneurial leadership, Loon moved from science project to viable venture, and Tom’s valuable industry experience will help launch us into the commercial stage of this moonshot,” Astro Teller, the head of X, said in a statement. Teller previously has said that Loon engineers have learned a lot about how to manage balloons in the stratosphere but underestimated how much they had to learn.
An X spokeswoman declined to tell Bloomberg when Alphabet might begin offering balloon-based internet service, but said it is currently in discussions with telecommunications companies. Last year, Loon signed a deal to test its internet-beaming balloons with three wireless carriers in Indonesia, where only about one in three residents is connected to the internet.
Earlier this year, Project Loon engineers described how they conducted initial construction and testing in Wisconsin on one of their autolaunchers known as Chicken Little. They then packed it up and shipped it to Puerto Rico, where it was reassembled and used to successfully autolaunch a handful of test balloons.
The Chicken Little autolauncher is one of a number of custom-built, 55-foot tall autolaunch cranes designed to fill, lift and launch the tennis-court sized balloons in under 30 minutes. Portable autolaunchers allow them to move the operation to places that provide access to favorable wind patterns, which can help provide the internet connectivity.
Having someone with satellite experience at the helm might help propel Project Loon’s efforts. Moore will start as a vice president at X and general manager of Project Loon in mid-September.
"Billions of people still lack affordable, reliable access to the educational, cultural and economic opportunities of the internet, largely due to the costs and challenges of connecting rural and remote parts of the globe,” he said in a statement to Bloomberg. “The world needs fresh approaches like Project Loon, which can help overcome terrestrial obstacles like mountains and jungles, and has made far more progress than anyone would have expected.”
ViaSat named Moore president of its WildBlue subsidiary in 2009. Moore was a co-founder of WildBlue in 1998 and served as president and CEO until 2005, continuing as a director of the company until 2008. Under his tenure, WildBlue built and launched its own special purpose satellite and deployed a nationwide consumer broadband service. He also was previously in senior management at CableLabs, where he was instrumental in the creation of the DOCSIS cable modem standard.
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