SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO AM) – You can’t GOOGLE something where there is no internet connectivity and there are areas of the world where these conditions exist. When Google thought of balloons in the Stratosphere to transmit their signal, they brought their concept to Raven Industries of Sioux Falls, S.D. the balloon experts.
“When Google came to us; not knowing what the project was, we told them we have been putting payloads into the stratosphere for decades,” said Lon Stroschein, Vice President and General Manager of Raven Aerostar. “We manufactured a few balloons for them and headed out into the desert, did a few flights and they were impresses with what they saw. That led to a few more conversations, reading us deeper into the conversation which ultimately became Project Loon.”
Stroschein said Google’s mission is to connect everyone in the world to the internet. There are over 4-billion people in the world who have no internet access. There are over a billion others who have mediocre access like we knew 15 years ago where we hit dial-up and waited for the page to refresh. Google’s mission is to bring 3-G access to all corners of the world and they are going to do it on the backs of our balloons flying between 60-70-thousand feet.
“These Balloons are different because there are two chambers in them,” said Stroschein. “One chamber is for helium and the other chamber is for ambient air which pressurizes the helium chamber which gives us control over altitude. By adjusting these balloons at these altitudes keeps the balloons in a box and will distribute consistent coverage.”
Stroschein said the balloons themselves are very durable. They are under tremendous pressure and are exposed to very bad weather. Raven’s goal is to keep these balloons in the air at least 90 days. We are still in the early stages of Project Loon, and we plan to do more experiments at test sites around the world.
Stroschein shared other areas within Raven that not too many people are aware of. The Precision Agriculture Division which gives precision technology to farmers around the world which helps feed a growing population. The Engineered Films Division; which makes the material for these balloons, which are big sheets of plastic that operates at negative 60 degrees. And the Aerostar division has recently acquired radar and works with tethered blimps that ensure troop safety in places like Afghanistan.
“When we went to New Zealand and launched our first flight, and I got to be part of the first family who went from nothing to something on the internet,” said Stroschein. “The first person went right to Auto Trader.com and wanted to know what he could get for his 1978 Chevy. It was exciting, because it was real world and we were part of it.”
*Lon Strochein was interviewed on the Greg Belfrage Show June 20, 2013.