Loon LLC, the organization dedicated to bringing internet access to remote locations via high-altitude balloons, set a new flight-duration record in 2020 of 312 days.
Salvatore Candido, Loon chief technology officer, said in a Medium blog post that the record demonstrates that the company’s efforts to make flight systems last longer is working. The balloon launched from Puerto Rico in May of 2019 and traveled to Peru, where it provided test service for three months. From there, Loon sent the system south to circumnavigate the globe, settling over the Pacific Ocean, where it floated on winds for another seven months. Finally, in March of 2020, it landed in Baja, Mexico, where a Loon recovery team collected the flight system for additional analysis.
Raven Aerostar of Sioux Falls, S.D., is Loon’s balloon design and manufacturing partner. Each tennis-court-sized balloon envelope is made from polyethylene and consists of a balloon inside of a balloon. A fixed amount of lift gas in the inner balloon keeps the system aloft. Adding or releasing outside air to the outer balloon changes density, allowing the system to ascend or descend when needed.
Once recovered, balloons are laid out on a giant scanner to be inspected for microscopic holes and tears. This analysis paints a picture of how the balloons react to conditions in the stratosphere and provides insights that further inform design choices, enabling the team to develop balloons capable of increasingly longer flight durations. For more, visit www.loon.com.