Google Loon’s Internet Balloons Come Back To Earth After A Decade In The Stratosphere

After a journey of a decade, what started as Project Loon by Google is no more. Promoted as a way to bring communications to the most remote parts of the globe, it used gigantic, high-altitude balloons equipped with communication hardware for air to ground, as well as air to air communication, between individual balloons. Based around LTE technology, it would bring multiple megabit per second data links to both remote areas and disaster zones.

Seven years into its development, Loon became its own company (Loon LLC), and would provide communications to some areas of Kenya, in addition to Sri Lanka in 2015 and Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria. Three years later, in January of 2021, it was announced that Loon LLC would be shutting down operations. By that point it had become apparent that the technology would not be commercially viable, with alternatives including wired internet access having reduced the target market.

While the idea behind Loon sounds simple in theory, it turns out that it was more complicated than just floating up some weather balloon with LTE base stations strapped to them.

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Simple, Self-Contained LoRa Repeater In About An Hour

[Dave Akerman]’s interest in high-altitude projects means he is no stranger to long-range wireless communications, for which LoRa is amazingly useful. LoRa is a method of transmitting at relatively low data rates with low power over long distances.

Despite LoRa’s long range, sometimes the transmissions of a device (like a balloon’s landed payload) cannot be received directly because it is too far away, or hidden behind buildings and geography. In these cases a useful solution is [Dave]’s self-contained LoRa repeater. The repeater hardware is simple, and [Dave] says that if one has the parts on hand, it can be built in about an hour.

The device simply re-transmits any telemetry packets it receives, and all that takes is an Arduino Mini Pro and a small LoRa module. A tiny DC-DC converter, battery, and battery charger rounds out the bill of materials to create a small and self-contained unit that can be raised up on a mast, flown on a kite, or carried by a drone.

The repeater’s frequency and other settings can even be reprogrammed (using a small windows program) for maximum flexibility, making the little device invaluable when going hunting for landed payloads like the one [Dave] used to re-create a famous NASA image using a plastic model and a high-altitude balloon. Check out the details on the GitHub repository for the project and start mashing “add to cart” for parts at your favorite reseller.

Cheap Muon Detectors Go Aloft On High-Altitude Balloon Mission

There’s something compelling about high-altitude ballooning. For not very much money, you can release a helium-filled bag and let it carry a small payload aloft, and with any luck graze the edge of space. But once you retrieve your payload package – if you ever do – and look at the pretty pictures, you’ll probably be looking for the next challenge. In that case, adding a little science with this high-altitude muon detector might be a good mission for your next flight.

[Jeremy and Jason Cope] took their inspiration for their HAB mission from our coverage of a cheap muon detector intended exactly for this kind of citizen science. Muons constantly rain down upon the Earth from space with the atmosphere absorbing some of them, so the detection rate should increase with altitude. [The Cope brothers] flew two of the detectors, to do coincidence counting to distinguish muons from background radiation, along with the usual suite of gear, like a GPS tracker and their 2016 Hackaday prize entry flight data recorder for HABs.

The payload went upstairs on a leaky balloon starting from upstate New York and covered 364 miles (586 km) while managing to get to 62,000 feet (19,000 meters) over a five-hour trip. The [Copes] recovered their package in Maine with the help of a professional tree-climber, and their data showed the expected increase in muon flux with altitude. The GoPro died early in the flight, but the surviving footage makes a nice video of the trip.

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