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Google Launches Balloons From Chico Airport

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The Project Loon team prepares solar panels, electronics and balloon envelopes for launch as the sun rises in New Zealand.  (Source: Google+)

The Project Loon team prepares solar panels, electronics and balloon envelopes for launch as the sun rises in New Zealand. (Source: Google+)

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CHICO (CBS13) – It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s just a couple of Google balloons with Internet access.

Wait, what?

With permission from the city of Chico, the tech company launched two test balloons from Chico Municipal Airport on Halloween. They are a part of Project Loon, Google’s idea for bringing Internet service to everyone across the globe.

Since the project’s June debut in New Zealand, Google has conducting several balloon flights across Central California.

According to a company spokesperson, the purpose of these tests is to research the various performance aspects of the Loon technology, which include radio performance, parachute deployment, and the solar panel’s energy collection. They are also testing the superpressure envelope — the balloon’s navigation.

About 50 feet wide and 40 feet tall, these superpressure balloons are filled with helium and use a customized pump to capture and release air. This allows the balloon to ascend and descend into wind systems that will guide the balloon to its destination.

Chico was chosen as a launching pad because of the city’s distance from major airports and its good weather, the spokesperson said.

If successful, Loon — a part of the mysterious Google X division managed by co-founder Sergey Brin — will have a network of balloons that fly in Earth’s stratosphere, which is twice as high as airplanes and weather systems.

These test balloons are only designed to travel about 150 miles before descending back down.

If someone were to come across the balloons before researchers retrieved them, a note reading “Harmless Science Experiment” can be found on the device — along with a phone number to call.

Google plans to continue these research flights throughout the state.

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