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Google's Project Loon balloons can circle Earth three times

The cutting-edge balloons that Google built for its Wi-Fi broadcasting will be able to travel around the world three times, or for 100 days.

Google tests material for Project Loon's balloons, in this screenshot from a video explaining the challenges in choosing the right material for the balloons.
Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Project Loon might be a crazy moon shot, but Google is building its balloons to stay afloat an unusually long time.

A key component of the Google [x] Lab project to deliver Wi-Fi to remote parts of the world via souped-up weather balloons is the material that the balloons are made of, according to a new Google video. And it sounds like Google hasn't yet settled on a solution.

Each balloon is designed to stay up for 100 days or three trips around the globe. That's much longer than most weather balloons that travel at the stratospheric heights that Loon balloons will achieve, Pam Desrochers, Google's balloon manufacturing manager, explained in the video.

"100 days is long enough so that we get a good life out of it, but not so long that we have outmoded technology in the air," she explained.

Descrochers described the balloon material as rubber-band like, with each balloon requiring 500 square meters of the stuff. While originally the balloons that were tested in Project Loon's demo in New Zealand were made out of polyethylene film, the video makes it sound like Google is still undecided on what kind of material will best suit its balloons.

She notes that Loon's balloons must be exceptionally hardy, because they will be subject to both hot and cold extremes on a daily basis, causing the material to stretch and contract. Ultraviolet radiation and inclement weather are also problems that the balloons must contend with, as they could lead to pinhole leaks and more serious destructive forces.