The operations team at Alphabet’s Loon, the former project within Google, managed to break its previous flight record of 198 days by keeping a balloon in the stratosphere for 223 days.
Flight system P-496 was brought to a controlled landing this past Sunday in the Ica region of Peru, where it was collected for analysis, according to a post on LinkedIn. The balloon had been launched from Peru back in November and traveled over 180,000 kilometers, circling the globe once and spending nearly 140 days testing navigational algorithms over an area off the coast of South America.
According to Loon, which builds high altitude balloons for delivering internet connectivity, the flight and landing marks a number of important missives.
“Steadily increasing balloon duration means each flight vehicle can work longer, bringing more efficiency to our overall operations,” the post said. “Continuing to improve our ability to remain above one location for extended periods of time is key to providing consistent coverage to those below.”
Of course, Loon said landing and recovering the balloons safely is part of its commitment to sustainability in its operations. Analyzing this and other balloons will help them understand the properties that increase balloon longevity, with an eye toward flights that last even longer.
Sure enough, the team is already said to be working to break the 223-day record.
Loon previously has highlighted the value of wireless operators to its mission. With the first commercial trial set to begin with Telkom Kenya, Reuters reported this week that several other operators courted by Loon across four continents aren’t convinced that Loon is a fit for them. Reuters contacted Telkom Indonesia, Vodafone New Zealand, France’s Orange SA, Orange Middle East and Africa and Kuwait-based Zain Group.
Alphabet’s Loon division has been in development since 2013, and was spun out of Alphabet’s X division in 2018. In 2017, Loon launched an internet service for some 100,000 residents in Puerto Rico, and last year it installed ground infrastructure in Kenya to support the service launch planned for later this year.
Earlier this year, Softbank’s HAPSMobile announced it was investing $125 million in Loon’s business, striking a long-term strategy partnership to advance high-altitude connectivity.