As detailed in Spacenews.com, Google X (Google’s facility dedicated to making major technological advancements) has just received the biggest consignment to date for Project Loon by the French government space agency CNES. Project Loon is Google’s mission to provide rural and remote areas around the world, such as Africa and Southeast Asia, with 3G like Internet by placing high altitude balloons in the stratosphere to create an aerial wireless network.
While the scale of this project is already impressive, the Loon project has taken an ambitious turn with CNES’ announcement last month that they are partnering with Google to deploy more than 100,000 balloons into the stratosphere.
With CNES already maintaining an active balloon launch program for studies of upper-atmospheric air currents where they presently launch as many as 20 balloons a month, what CNES is able to offer Google comes in the form of experience. In addition, one of the biggest advantages of Google’s partnership with CNES is also one of a political dimension. Under Annex 6, Part 1 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (also known as the Chicago Convention) an “aircraft” is defined as “any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air other than the reaction of the air against the earth’s surface”
Due to the fact that under this Convention a balloon is considered an aircraft, deploying Project Loon would require substantial regulatory issues with civil aviation authorities and diplomatic effort to obtain the regulatory approval for every nation whose territory the balloons fly over. Fortunately, CNES dealt with the same issue three years ago when they planned an equatorial balloon campaign. For that project, CNES engaged in a great deal of diplomatic work in order to gain the authorizations from 78 nations in the latitudes they planned to send the balloons. Other issues CNES will help Google tackle in order to advance Project Loon include the cost of development, the cost of maintenance, and the need to recover the balloons after the mission. Similar to obtaining regulatory approval, these issues of research and development, including recovery of the balloons, will require the cooperation of these remote nations Project Loon intends to help. Therefore, not only are Google and CNES plans to try to connect the these regions with Internet, but they might inadvertently be connecting these regions with each other.