What are those odd yellow balls on FlightRadar24?

Project Loon (Source: FlightRadar24)
Project Loon (Source: FlightRadar24)

Looking at flight tracking websites like FlightRadar24 at the moment means you often see things you don’t notice, or pay attention too, normally including a bunch of yellow balls floating around over South America and Africa.

But they aren’t UFO’s they are Balloons that are part of Project Loon, a project that uses “audacious technologies” to connect people across the globe.

A Project Loon Balloon (Source: Loon)
A Project Loon Balloon (Source: Loon)

The balloons are designed to float up to 20km above the earth for around 100 days at a time carrying a connectivity base station to bring an LTE (4G) signal to remote areas.

Made from polyethylene, the balloons are about the size of a tennis court and generally sit wind layers in the upper atmosphere creating a stable platform for delivering the data network.

Diagram showing Project Loon Balloon (Source: Loon)
Diagram showing Project Loon Balloon (Source: Loon)

They aren’t static but are constantly moving with the winds and the project has a system which is constantly learning how to improve the choreography of the balloons.

The electronic equipment is designed to be ultra-efficient and is powered by solar energy. The solar panels power the equipment during daylight and also charge a battery for operation during dark hours.

A Project Loon Autolauncher (Source: Loon)
A Project Loon Autolauncher (Source: Loon)

The Balloons are launched using a custom-built Autolauncher designed to launch Loon balloons safely. The Side panels protect the balloon from the wind as it is filled with lift gas and positioned for launch.

After 100 days the balloons return to earth in a controlled descent under a parachute.

An inflated Project Loon Balloon (Source: Loon)
An inflated Project Loon Balloon (Source: Loon)

Project Loon is a subsidiary of Google owners, Alphabet and originally began testing the idea in 2011.

About Nick Harding 1179 Articles
Nick is the senior reporter and editor at UK Aviation News as well as working freelance elsewhere. He has his finger firmly on the pulse on Aviation, not only in the UK but worldwide. Nick has been asked to speak in a professional capacity on LBC, Heart and other broadcast networks.