Loon is dispatching a larger fleet of balloons is heading to Kenya after successful launches from Loon’s launch site in Puerto Rico, this week. The balloons will join the eight balloons that were recently approved by the government of Kenya. The loons are already active and part of a network integration exercise in the Kenyan airspace.
The balloons will undergo a network integration testing with its local partner, Telkom Kenya, in preparation to begin serving users. The Loon service will seek to use its 4G/LTE Internet solution to connect unserved and under-served communities in Kenya. Initial coverage areas have already been identified, starting with Nairobi, Machakos, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kitui, Nanyuki, Narok and into Kisii.
Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mugo KIBATI, states: “These balloons will be used to expedite integration testing of this pioneer LTE service. We will glean off insights from those tests to fast track integration of all other balloons that have been dispatched from Loon Inc.’s launch sites and are to arrive in Kenya over the coming few weeks. Once the balloons are in place, this new technology will complement Telkom’s ongoing strategy to further widen its network coverage, confirming the telco as Kenya’s preferred data network.”
Loon’s CEO Alastair WESTGARTH states: “We’re extremely excited to be sending additional balloons to Kenya for further testing with Telkom, and we look forward to beginning to provide service in the near future. We’re very grateful for the support of the government and all Kenyans as we work to bring balloon-powered Internet to Kenya as quickly as possible.”
The balloons will make their way to Kenya by navigating wind currents 20km above the Earth’s stratosphere. With constant human oversight. So far, the balloons have flown over 40 million kilometers.
Throughout their journey, the balloons will make hundreds of altitude adjustments. While searching for favorable winds to bring them to Kenya. The route taken by the balloons will vary depending on wind conditions. In some instances, the balloons will fly east across the Atlantic Ocean; in some cases, they will fly west across the Pacific Ocean.
Loon and Telkom will work closely with local air traffic control officials and ground partners to finalize this plan and prepare for the actual descent and landing. Extensive planning goes into securing landing zones, training in-country recovery partners. Coordinating with officials on landing and recovery procedures, and developing landing plans to bring a balloon safely to the ground.
Loon’s flight engineers are in communication with local air traffic control to ensure real-time coordination. Landing paths are parallel from commercial aircraft flight routes. And transit time through the altitudes where other aircraft might operate is very limited. Nonetheless, the balloon is also outfitted with an ADS-B transponder that makes it visible to aircraft in the vicinity. The entire process from deflation to landing takes about 60 minutes.
Guided to the ground by its parachute. The balloon lands at relatively low speed – around 20 km/hour, or about the speed at which a skydiver might land. Once on the ground, specially-trained recovery teams collect the balloon and materials for analysis and recycling.
Telkom and Loon will work with local partners to recover landed balloons. Their knowledge of the local landscape and communities will be invaluable to Loon’s landing and recovery operations in Kenya.