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CCSS: 6.EE.B.7, MP2, MP4, MP7

TEKS: 6.6.C, 6.9.A, 6.10.

Internet in the Sky

How a fleet of giant balloons could help connect people in the world’s most remote places

Courtesy of Loon

Google engineers designed this special platform to inflate and launch Loon balloons.

High above Kenya, about 35 clear plastic balloons bob in the stratosphere—60,000 feet above Earth. As they float, the balloons beam down a Wi-Fi signal to the people below. This is the newest deployment of Google Loon. The project’s goal is to provide internet access to people living in areas with poor or no connectivity.

It may seem like everyone is online these days—especially as Covid-19 moved school, work, and more to digital formats. But according to the United Nations, nearly 45 percent of households around the world lack a high-quality internet connection.

About 35 clear plastic balloons bob in the sky above Kenya. They’re 60,000 feet above Earth. As they float, the balloons beam down a Wi-Fi signal to the people below. They’re part of a project called Google Loon. The project’s goal is to provide internet access to people living in areas with little or none.

It may seem like everyone is online these days. That’s especially true as many people are attending school, work, and more online because of Covid-19. But according to the United Nations, nearly 45 percent of households around the world don’t have a good internet connection.

Getting online is hard in some places because most types of connections require a lot of costly infrastructure. Cable, fiber-optic, DSL, and dial-up networks rely on physical wires to connect a user to the internet provider. Cell phone networks need towers within range of the user. Telecommunications companies pay for this by charging customers to connect. But in sparsely populated areas or those with rugged terrain, there aren’t enough people to cover the costs.

Getting online is hard in some places because it requires expensive equipment. Modems need physical cables to connect a user to the internet provider. Cell phone networks need towers within range of the user. Telecommunications companies pay for this by charging customers to connect. But in areas with small populations, there aren’t enough people to cover the costs. Rugged terrain can also make it difficult to set up internet cables or cell towers.

That’s where Google Loon comes in. “It’s like a cell tower floating in the sky,” says Aakanksha Singh, a senior software engineer at Google Loon. The technology was first tested in New Zealand in 2013, and since then it has been used around the world. For the project in Kenya, Google launched the balloons from the United States. It was Singh’s job to make sure they completed the 10- to 30-day journey safely.

Singh helps program the navigation system for the balloons’ flight paths, using maps based on weather forecasts and models. Once in place, the balloons pick up signals from stations on the ground and relay them to other balloons and then to people’s devices (see “How Google Loon Works,” below). The signals from the cluster of balloons covered an estimated 19,300 square miles of western and central Kenya, including the capital, Nairobi, where more than 4 million people live.

That’s where Google Loon comes in. “It’s like a cell tower floating in the sky,” says Aakanksha Singh. She’s a software engineer at Google Loon. The technology was first tested in New Zealand in 2013. Since then it has been used around the world. For the project in Kenya, Google launched the balloons from the United States. It was Singh’s job to make sure they completed the journey safely.

Singh helps program the system that the balloons use to navigate. Information from maps and weather forecasts helps determine the flight path. Once they reach their destination, the balloons pick up internet signals from stations on the ground. They relay the signals to other balloons and then to people’s devices. The cluster of balloons in Kenya brought internet to an estimated 19,300 square miles of the country. That includes the capital, Nairobi, where more than 4 million people live.

The company plans to eventually provide internet to the entire country—and beyond. “We want to boost the internet in all of the world,” Singh says. “Our primary focus is on getting these unconnected or under-connected areas online.”

Google plans to eventually provide internet to the entire country—and beyond. “We want to boost the internet in all of the world,” says Singh. “Our primary focus is on getting these unconnected or under-connected areas online.”  

Use this information to write and solve one-step equations about the Google Loon project. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Use this information to write and solve one-step equations about the Google Loon project. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

The average download speed for 4G phones in the U.S. is 35 Mbps (megabits per second). That’s 16 Mbps faster than d, the download speed using Google Loon. Write and solve an equation to find d.

The average download speed for 4G phones in the U.S. is 35 Mbps (megabits per second). That’s 16 Mbps faster than d, the download speed using Google Loon. Write and solve an equation to find d.

Communications satellites beam internet signals from space 22,370 miles above Earth in geostationary orbit, where they stay over the same spot on Earth. That’s 22,358 miles higher than m, the height at which Loon balloons transmit. Write and solve an equation to find m.

Communications satellites beam internet signals from space 22,370 miles above Earth in geostationary orbit, where they stay over the same spot on Earth. That’s 22,358 miles higher than m, the height at which Loon balloons transmit. Write and solve an equation to find m.

To date, Loon’s balloons have flown more than 25,000,000 miles. That’s 1,000 times c, the circumference of Earth. Write and solve an equation to find c.

To date, Loon’s balloons have flown more than 25,000,000 miles. That’s 1,000 times c, the circumference of Earth. Write and solve an equation to find c.

A single Loon balloon’s signal covers an area of 4,247 square miles. Kenya has an area of 224,961 square miles. It takes b Loon balloons to beam internet signals to the entire country. Write and solve an equation to find b. Round your answer to the nearest balloon.

A single Loon balloon’s signal covers an area of 4,247 square miles. Kenya has an area of 224,961 square miles. It takes b Loon balloons to beam internet signals to the entire country. Write and solve an equation to find b. Round your answer to the nearest balloon.

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