Last summer, Internet search engine giant Google began a serious, albeit typically lighthearted, effort to make the Web’s many opportunities available to the entire planet.
In an attempt to solve a widespread problem, the company launched a sequence of about 30 giant helium-filled balloons from the vicinity of Christchurch, New Zealand. The idea behind the pilot test was that the relatively inexpensive high-altitude balloons would float along, with variable wind speeds used to maneuver them into a stable formation in the stratosphere (roughly 10-30 miles above the ground), where they could then relay continuous signals to ground stations and provide cellphone and Internet data to hundreds of relatively isolated people below. Each balloon would provide a signal to an area within a radius of approximately 24 square miles, Google estimated, and each would last about a hundred days before it would be brought back to earth, outfitted with a new envelope and returned to the array.
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