Balloons from Winnemucca connected nearly a quarter of a million users to LTE service in remote areas of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Project Loon’s leadership team unexpectedly announce that the project would be coming to a close within the next few months.
Balloons from Winnemucca connected nearly a quarter of a million users to LTE service in remote areas of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Project Loon’s leadership team unexpectedly announce that the project would be coming to a close within the next few months.
Project Loon, a subsidiary of the Alphabet parent company of Google has announced the end of its global project, which currently utilizes just over 15 acres at the Winnemucca Municipal Airport complex under a license agreement with the city. 

The future of the land license agreement is currently unknown, City Manager/Engineer Alicia Heiser said that Loon had not contacted the city as of last week regarding the announcement or future use of the 16.56 acres being utilized and that Alphabet, Inc. could still lease the land for another project if it chooses to.  The city receives $9,960 per month in license fees for use of the land ($119,520 annually) and Heiser said that the revenue from Loon is utilized to maintain airport operations and as part of the Federal Aviation Administration project grant match funds for capital improvements. 

Loon has maintained the license agreement since September 2014 when the project still housed Google’s research and development division and has expanded its footprint at the airport complex twice since then, once in 2015 to 6.56 acres and then in 2018 to 15.56 acres. 

Prior to the announcement of Loon’s closure the company had been preparing to expand its Winnemucca footprint to 18.56 acres of property. 

The license agreement cost is based on the amount of land occupied by Loon, so Heiser said the cost per year initially was not significant for the city but now the funds largely cover airport operations and match funds for FAA grants and capital improvements. 

If Loon does vacate the land, another company could sign a lease agreement for the property, if not then the loss in revenue could impact the airport’s capital improvement plan. 

The Loon project sends solar battery powered balloons into orbit approximately 60,000 above the earth above other air traffic equipped with LTE services to bring connectivity to remote and underserved areas of the world, using technology developed during research and development. 

Winnemucca was chosen for the location for one of Loon’s only two launch sites in the world due to ideal wind conditions and proximity of I-80, which aids in material management. The second launching station was set up in Puerto Rico. 

Balloons were able to be launched from Winnemucca to Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria compromised Loon’s facility there, as well as essential infrastructure such as cell phone towers. Loon was able to partner with cell phone service agencies to provide connectivity to Puerto Rico while infrastructure was being repaired.

It’s unclear how many employees will be impacted in Winnemucca and officials were not available by presstime to answer questions.  

Alphabet X Captain of Moonshots (CEO) Astro Teller said in an online article that Loon will be winding down operations in the coming months and that although Loon is going away, $10M would be pledged to support nonprofits and businesses focused on connectivity, Internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya. 

In his announcement online, Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said, “While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier. Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down.”