Loon sets stratospheric sustained flight record with 312-day balloon trip

Alphabet’s Loon, the company focused on creating new networking capabilities using stratosphere-based infrastructure, has set a new world record for a continuous stratospheric flight. One of Loon’s ultra high-altitude balloons flew for 312 days straight, beating the existing record of 223 days by a considerable margin, and nearly racking up a full year of sustained time aloft.

The balloon in question took off from Puerto Rico in May 2019, and then made its way to Peru, where it took part in a service test for three months. It then headed south over the Pacific Ocean, and finally ended up in Baja, Mexico for a landing in March this year. Loon’s CTO Sal Candido said in a blog post that the record-setting flight is the result of the company’s continued work on advancing its technology and pushing both hardware and software forward in new and innovative ways.

Part of that means learning as much as possible from balloons that break records like this one, and Candido points out that Loon has a unique advantage over more traditional high-altitude balloons designed for weather observation because it recovers just about all of them, and can study the best performers in extreme detail. That allows it to replicate and improve on what’s going right when balloons are staying aloft for long periods.

Long-lasting stratospheric balloons are useful because they mean that Loon can provide connectivity to target areas for longer, at lower costs, which hopefully means more affordable connectivity for everyone, including those in hard-to-reach areas where ground infrastructure is prohibitively expensive.

There’s plenty of additional potential for science, Earth observation and weather tracking/modeling, but Loon’s squarely focused on the connectivity piece of the puzzle at the moment, and replicating this will help tremendously in that regard.