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Project Loon Floats Again: Giant Balloons Traversing Australia

What appears to be a large cluster of Alphabet’s giant Project Loon balloons has been traversing Australia over the past week, as the company’s innovation lab ‘X’ revives its testing of the project that aims to provide floating Internet relay stations.

The balloons can inflate to the size of tennis courts, but generally fly so high – around 20km – that they mostly go unnoticed by people on the land.

At this stage Project Loon aims at taking the Internet to under-served countries in Africa, Asia or South America – but not Australia, despite the Down Under test.

“We have a couple of Loon balloons bobbing their way over northern Australia, (but) we’re not currently running connectivity tests in Australia … so no balloon-powered Internet for Aussies just yet,” Libby Leahy, an Aussie who works for Project Loon in California, told ABC Science.

(A map of sightings broadcast by the ABC seems to suggest that there were more than “a couple” sailing across Oz last week – indeed the FlightRadar tracking diagram reproduced on this page appears to show more balloons than aircraft over Queensland).

The balloons above Australia were taking part in navigational testing, Leahy said, using software algorithms that allow them to rise and fall to take advantage of different wind speeds and directions within the stratosphere.

They have been flying around the world since March, when they set off in Project Loon’s most significant test to date.

X began testing Project Loon take-offs in New Zealand in 2013, but struck trouble when some descended into the sea, leading distant observers to set off alarms in the mistaken belief that they had witnessed a far-off plane crash.

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