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Google, France space agency partner up on Project Loon

France will contribute its expertise in balloon technology, while Google will assist the space agency with long-term balloon campaigns.

A Loon balloon makes an ascent near Campo Maior, Brazil.Photo by Google

Google and France's space agency, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, hope to reach new heights through collaborative work on Google X's Project Loon.

The two entities announced a partnership on Thursday, saying that they will work together on technologies that will allow Project Loon, Google's balloon-based Internet service, to ramp up in France. The organizations were relatively tight-lipped on their plans, but CNES did say that Google will take advantage of the space agency's expertise in balloon technology. Google, meanwhile, will conduct long-duration balloon campaigns as part of CNES' ongoing study of the stratosphere and ozone. CNES has been working on balloon technology for decades.

CNES and Google didn't respond to requests for comment.

Project Loon is the brainchild of Google X, the company's experimental lab that produces a wide range of futuristic products and services. Project Loon, which is still in its infancy and testing phase, aims to provide Internet access to underserved areas by using balloons. The balloons, which are powered by solar panels, fly at altitudes higher than those reached by commercial airlines and above weather itself. So far, Project Loon balloons, which provide connection speeds fast enough for video streaming, have flown more than 3 million kilometers.

While the partnership between Google and CNES could improve Project Loon's prospects, it could help Google's prospects too.

The company is under a lot of pressure in Europe, having endured antitrust scrutiny, the European Parliament promoting a Google breakup, the shutting down of Google News in Spain, and difficulties scrubbing information out of search results to comply with the right-to-be-forgotten rule. Partnerships that show a direct benefit to European customers could improve the company's image with politicians and the public.

Google didn't say that the move was designed to improve its relations with Europe, but the company may be looking at the continent's increasing resistance to its services as a potential threat. By partnering with a French government agency, it's possible Google might be hoping for some relief.

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