back to article Google Loon balloon crash lands in Chile

The Chilean authorities are investigating a Google Project Loon balloon flight which ended on Saturday morning in a pile of crumpled kit in a farmer's field. Police at the scene of the landing. Pic: Policía de Investigaciones de Chile Police teams cordoned off the crash site to the east of Los Ángeles, some 100km southeast …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pop

    Goes the Google.

  2. AndrewV

    > they measure fifteen meters wide by twelve meters tall when fully inflated.

    How many kilocats is that?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Not even a millicat, I reckon.

    2. Bill Gray

      Make it a fourteen-meter diameter sphere, and it would have a volume of about 1400 m^3. A cubic meter of air at sea level is about 1.2 kg; helium is almost negligible in comparison. Call it a kilogram of lifting power per cubic meter, and you have 1400 kilograms of cats.

      https://duckduckgo.com/html/?q=average+cat+weight&btnG=DuckDuckGo+Search

      gives various answers for average cat weight, but nine "pounds" (an archaic way of saying about four kilograms) seems about right. Which would give us 0.35 kilocats. You'd have to scale that down if you were lifting cats into the upper atmosphere, of course, and I'm sure there would be some structure needed to actually hold all those cats.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        and I'm sure there would be some structure needed to actually hold all those cats.

        Errr, no? Just tie their tails together, and the uppermost cat can hold onto the balloon with its claws. And that's probably why the gas came out of this one and it came down.

        1. Stevie

          Re: tie thier tails together

          Dangerous rubbish!

          The correct method is to rub each cat's fur vigorously with an ebonite rod and stick it directly to the balloon envelope with the generated static electricity.

          What on earth are they teaching in schools today?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: tie thier tails together

            The correct method is to rub each cat's fur vigorously with an ebonite rod

            The ascending balloon will encounter charged particles that will eventually counteract the be-staticed cats, causing them to lose charge and fall off. For reasons of balance you'd be obliged to use a mix of dogs as well, because everybody's heard of it raining cats and dogs, but nobody has ever heard of it JUST raining cats.

            But, if you're no good knotting cat tails, rather than complicated electrical ideas that also need you to procure an additional 1,400 Jack Russells, the best solution is surely silicone mastic? With a shear strength in excess of 6kg/cm^2 for 0.24mm thickness on a good substrate, one tube carefully applied would hold all 1,400 cats (subject to the substrate's own strength). And that's 3M premium marine grade sealant, so it'd still be within spec at temperatures down to -40C, so you'd probably be OK up to 10km of altitude. And it'll be waterproof, so if it rains the only worry is the greater weight of cats.

            And if that doesn't work, you could try Thornton's Special Toffee, which has world class shear strength and adhesion, proven by its ability to rip out fillings and pull teeth from sockets. But it might become a bit brittle at altitude, or be weakened by rain.

            What on earth are they teaching in schools today?

            Creative problem solving?

            1. Stevie

              Re: tie thier tails together

              "The ascending balloon will encounter charged particles that will eventually counteract the be-staticed cats, causing them to lose charge and fall off."

              Which is why you use ebonite and not amber when selecting your cat-charging rod. More attention to the lab notes is indicated and certainly more time cranking the Wimshurst machine. A little time with a balloon, a cat, and a common or garden gold leaf electroscope would seem to be in order too.

              And lets not forget the cork ball apparatus.

              Less reliance on assumption and more on the behaviour of one's balls when excited by the Van Der Graaf Generator would stand every young lad in good stead.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: tie thier tails together

                Less reliance on assumption and more on the behaviour of one's balls when excited by the Van Der Graaf Generator would stand every young lad in good stead.

                When I was taught physics (a real, old fashioned O level, none of your GCSE piffle) I recall the esteemed teacher, Mr Astwood standing class twerp (Lusher) in a plastic dustbin, with a hand on the VdGG. Lusher had long hair, which obliging stood out in perpendicular lengths from his heat, making him look a proper freak. After this successful demonstration of static to the class's immense joy, Mr Astwood gained further credibility by demonstrating lightning, by instructing the other class twerp (Wardle) to give Lusher a hand climbing out of the bin. All with his traditional caustic commentary.

                You don't get lessons like that these days.

                1. Stevie

                  Re: You don't get lessons like that these days

                  Mostly on account of the number of CMOS-fitted devices crammed into everyone's pockets.

            2. PNGuinn
              Mushroom

              Re: Thornton's Special Toffee

              If you used melted Fisherman's Friend Tablets (observing all necessary H & S precautions) as adhesive wouldn't the cats fall up?

              The most appropriate use of this icon I've found so far >>

              1. Wayland

                Re: Thornton's Special Toffee

                Toast falls butter side down and cats always land on their feet. Use the toffee to stick the toast to the cat's back. The cat then spins and you have no need for a balloon.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Thornton's Special Toffee

                  The cat then spins and you have no need for a balloon.

                  What about the 1,400 Jack Russells? Ghastly little vermin. And their owners.

                  And there's another flaw in the be-staticed cat plan. From the sort of altitude they'd be falling, temperatures would be minus 20 or so. And the forces that would neutralise the cat-static are associated with a convection cell, so we're talking about cat-hail. A sodden cut will be about, what?, 4kg? It'd be like a rain of frozen chickens.

                  That's going to fuck a whole of stuff. And you'd need more than an umbrella if you're out.

          2. HieronymusBloggs

            Re: tie thier tails together

            "The correct method is to rub each cat's fur vigorously with an ebonite rod and stick it directly to the balloon envelope with the generated static electricity."

            And given the law of feline physics which states that a cat will always land on its feet, all they would have to do is make sure all of their feet were pointing towards the centre of the balloon to ensure it would never crash to the ground.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I'm not saying it's aliens...

    ...but it's aliens.

    Hehe, back in the nineties, and the heyday of the X-files, nutters might have said this was a crashed UFO and the Balloon story was just a cover-up. These days, since for the last decade a lot of people have carried a (phone)camera in their pockets most of the time, there have been no large corresponding rise in the number of picture of UFOs, Nessie, Bigfoot etc.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: I'm not saying it's aliens...

      thats because if you take a picture of a ufo on your phone the nsa find out through their bugging and use the microwaves in your phone to delete the picture and wipe your memory

      (sic throughout)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm not saying it's aliens...

        They use the same microwaves to prevent you educating others with the truth of the technology by preventing you from posting comments on public websi...

        <lost carrier>

    2. bigphil9009

      Re: I'm not saying it's aliens...

      You've probably seen this, but in case others haven't, here's the oblig xkcd...

      https://xkcd.com/1235/

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: I'm not saying it's aliens...

        Ah, it turns out I had seen it, but had also forgotten.

        "Our minds our but dung heaps for the seeds of other people's thoughts" etc

    3. PNGuinn
      Alien

      Re: I'm not saying it's aliens...

      But they would want you to think that wouldn't they?

    4. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: I'm not saying it's aliens...

      Plot for X-Files reboot: the thing that crashed near Roswell was a Google Loon that went through a time warp.

  4. Steve Graham
    Alien

    a balloon, or...

    Eerily reminiscent of what happened at Roswell in 1947.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: a balloon, or...

      +1 beat me to it... Roswell that ends well...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: a balloon, or...

      I'm not a conspiracy theorist but maybe it was blown up...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: a balloon, or...

        Shot down by a facebook drone?

  5. WibbleMe

    Like $20B profits a big balloon that crashes hu

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well

    Um, nice story about how they "control" the landing... let me clear my throat.. bullshiiiit ... There, that's better. For whatever reason, this fell - and I do mean fell, not softly floated to the ground in a highly controlled manner. They were very lucky it crashed in a remote field, because if those crumpled solar panels, had crumpled on some kids in a daycare or on some old folks in a home or crashed in traffic and someone died, oh my, what an outcry there would be. Does Google/Alphabet really think they are the first to think of this? I'm quite confident other major players have looked at this floating internet hokum and decided against it for a variety of reasons. The liability from crashes being one of them. Funny thing about crash landings. They aren't controllable and they obviously happen. The Black Swan here is pretty dark indeed.

    1. oldcoder

      Re: Well

      Looks more like it "fell" 10 feet.

      Large size of the breaks (a high speed impact would cause much SMALLER pieces, and a lot more trash).

      There was also no mention of crosswinds that could also cause the same damage.

      The purpose of a crash landing is to stop it from blowing sideways causing more damage to the surroundings.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well

        Side and cross winds dragging this puppy across the landscape is a good point. Let's have a live test of bringing one of these down in a football stadium filled with people on a windy day. Much fun will be had by all, no doubt. Ambulance(s) standing by of course.

        1. x 7

          Re: Well

          "Let's have a live test of bringing one of these down in a football stadium filled with people on a windy day. "

          have you been watching "Black Sunday" again?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Well

            Black Sunday? Fell one day too soon

            (Article says Saturday)

            1. mrjohn

              Re: Well

              That's the one day I would change for a Monday

    2. harmjschoonhoven
      Meh

      Re: Well

      Fishermen used to have a golden earring, so when they drowned and washed ashore the gold would pay their funeral bill.

      The Loon balloon could have a bundle of dollars in a titanium box to pay for damages at the crash site. But then ....

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: Well

        "pay for damages"

        This is Google, a company that gets almost all (maps excepted) of its content for free from others. It wouldn't be in their nature to ask permission to land or to pay damages.

        1. frank ly

          Re: Well

          Does the owner of land have any kind of salvage rights over objects that fall on it?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a criminal waste of helium

    Every 100 days another of these will be deployed over each of how many 80km2 areas? - And with each one we wave goodbye to more of our finite helium reserve.

    Sometimes corporations should be made to stop pursuing that last dollar.

    That is all.

    1. oldcoder

      Re: What a criminal waste of helium

      That is why most others don't do it. The cost of helium will rise.

      1. Wayland

        Re: What a criminal waste of helium

        "The cost of helium will rise." said in a very high voice.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: What a criminal waste of helium

      Helium is only one aspect of the waste.

    3. Mephistro

      Re: What a criminal waste of helium(@ AC)

      These things will be deployed in emergency situations, to provide connectivity to victims of natural disasters*. A few hundred cubic meters of Helium every year won't make any real difference, and in this kind of situation costs are not always the highest priority.

      *Note: The most cynical part of me reckons Google may have another uses for this technology, e.g. mass eavesdropping, ground troops connectivity, ... . But even if that were the case -and I'm not saying that it is-, the 'pros' would outnumber the 'cons'.

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: What a criminal waste of helium

      Its at 20km up. Why not use H2. 1/2 the density which means less surface area for the much larger molecule to escape from so it can stay up longer.

      Well it could stay up indefinitely if you use a bit of solar power to electrolyse some water captured from the air. You could keep the O2 for emergency supplies for out of control paragliders.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: What a criminal waste of helium

          @Symon At 20km up it could be filled with pretty much anything and it would be empty of it by the time you need to cry "Oh, the humanity". The same goes for Zeppelins - you could easily fill them with H2 and just have some He cushioning around the H2 - its the 21C FFS. The only thing to worry about would is making sure one of these things can go pop and land without knocking my beer over. That is the same for atomic or molecular gas.

          And H2 is about half the density of He: Hydrogen (ρH2) = 0.090 kg/m. Helium (ρHe) = 0.178 kg/m.

          My only problem with them is fucking up my astronomical observations.

        2. TimeMaster T

          Re: What a criminal waste of helium

          Most of the "issues" were caused by bad design choices. The Hindenburg was covered in a paint that was effectively thermit and had thousands of gallons of diesel fuel on board. All the hydrogen was burned up with in the first 90 seconds, and the hydrogen fire burned UP, it was the burning diesel fuel that fell down.

          Watch the video of the Hindenburg again sometime, and remember that Hydrogen flames are nearly invisible.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Flame

            Hydrogen fire

            As any good nerdy kid, I used to electrolysis to fill big garbage bags full of hydrogen and electronically ignite them. It's not interesting. A quick "whoosh" soars into the air and that's it. It was really a waste of time until I found a metal alloy that produced oxygen too.

            Hydrogen is a problem because it's corrosive.

          2. x 7

            Re: What a criminal waste of helium

            "Watch the video of the Hindenburg again sometime, and remember that Hydrogen flames are nearly invisible."

            much of what you see burning is actually the fabric skin, and the gasbags made from thousands of cow rumens. Presumably there was a fair bit of flammable varnished wood and fabric furnishing and decoration on board as well - those airships were finished to a luxury standard

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    6. TimeMaster T
      Boffin

      Re: What a criminal waste of helium

      They could always switch to Hydrogen.

      Seriously.

      These are unmanned units so loss of life is not an issue, except possibly when taking off and landing. What made the Hindenburg so deadly was not the gas it used but the highly flammable paint it was coated with and all the diesel fuel it was carrying. With a properly designed gas envelope and equipment pod there is no reason it couldn't be at least as safe as what they currently use.

      Most people reactions to using hydrogen are just like their reaction to nuclear energy. Hydrogen==Hindenburg!! nuclear==Fukushima!!, both cases the problem was caused by poor design choices, not the core technology itself.

      Something else I just thought of. It might be possible to use condensed water from the air and some of the solar energy to keep the gas envelop topped up so the "on station time" might be extended. This is just an off the top of my head idea, I don't know what the rate of gas escape is and all the other factors that need to be accounted for but it might be something to look into.

  8. Mage Silver badge
    Alien

    Irresponsible

    Google are a pack of Loons doing this.

    if they are REALLY serious, then they need an array of 2,500 LEO Satellites on a licensed band (LEO for latency, 2500 so as to deliver better than dialup speed, though still poor),

    1. MR J

      Re: Irresponsible

      These balloons probably cost $1-$2k, LEO sats are expensive, and they move at 17k mph. Tracking a new sat every 15 mins might not work reliably well with cheap home equipment either.

      The Oil and Gas industry has been using balloon based net for years, I honestly cant see what is wrong with it. Google is just trying to build on this method, and I think it is good.

      To those who complain about the Hydrogen used... Imagine all of the towers, electrical wire, fibre, man-hours worth of construction, and maintenance that would be needed to get this out there using typical infrastructure, I am sure the "energy" and material savings easily allow you produce that Hydrogen without blinking an eye.

      Would I love 2,500 LEO sats out there providing global coverage, yea. I would prefer research to go into things like launch loops, space elevators, or orbital rings. While the earth wouldn't be good for a Orbital Ring, If space elevator tech could be pushed forward then you wouldn't need many of them to act as large towers to hold tens of thousands of communication units.

      My mother live in America, she cant get broadband, there is no cell coverage, and the local phone company charges a fee for "Data" calls, guessing that the compression cards they use cant cope so you pay that bit extra to make sure your routed down a line that has good cards on both ends. When I imagine how the area where my mother lives has to deal with the Internet then I really hate to think of how people in developing parts of the world can deal with net issues. So let the balloons fly!... Hopefully they will release some in the Southern US!.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Irresponsible

        "Hopefully they will release some in the Southern US!."

        Yes, one of the major downsides of capitalism as practised in the Land of the Free where socialism is a swear word on a par with communism. No doubt if the local or state authorities tried to install a usable network, the commercial incumbents would sue them rather than actually compete.

      2. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: Irresponsible

        "complain about the Hydrogen used"

        We're complaining about the helium used...

        "produce that Hydrogen without blinking an eye"

        ...because it's really hard to produce when you are no longer refining natural gas, and quite frankly I'd rather that hospitals can afford to run MRI scanners than Google serve Ads and track people in remote areas.

  9. Dave 32
    Pint

    Balloons

    So, let's see, the American National Weather Service (NWS) operates a total of 102 radiosonde launch sites in North America, and each of these sites launches two weather balloons with radiosondes each day. That's a total of 204 balloon launches PER DAY. When's the last time anyone heard of any damage from one of these things coming down?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Weather_Service#Upper_air_observations

    Of course, larger payloads have a larger chance of damage. I've heard of some balloon operators who suspend a audible beeper on their payloads so that any humans or animals on the ground can hear the thing coming down (via parachute) and get out of the way. The beeper also makes it easier to locate and recover the payload.

    Manned balloonists typically would carry a bottle of champagne with them, to placate the farmer whose field their balloon landed in (I was once part of an impromptu landing crew for a manned balloon.).

    Dave

  10. M7S

    Disaster relief indeed

    If by chance any of these crash in a disaster area (insert your own Los Angeles jokes into this thread) then if someone has lost their house, livelihood etc at least they are now in receipt of a delivery of (presumably "not terribly gas-permable") sheeting to use to windproof a temporary shelter and some solar PV panels.

    If not, then its a boon for any off-grid enthusiast looking to secretly equip their zombie apocalypse shelter.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Disaster relief indeed

      It was Los Angeles in Chile, so no worries there. it's just some 3rd world banana republic and Google can pay them off with a few trinkets.

  11. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Something for farmers to look forward to

    Obviously these things can't come crashing down anywhere. Crashing near a city might mean a high speed impact with a vehicle. The fines for dropping anything onto nationally protected land tend to be steep. Shifting sand dunes would crush it. Water moves. It seems that Google has chosen farmland as their target. Hopefully the UV-burned balloon isn't too toxic.

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