Project Loon, Alphabet’s project to bring balloon-based internet service to the parts of the world without cables, has just overcome a mathematical and meteorological snag. (Alphabet is Google’s parent company.)

They’ve figured out how to keep the balloons flying in loops around a desired service point, rather than the original idea that balloons would have to circle the entire globe on the prevailing winds in order to get back to any particular point.

Here’s how it works: by inflating or deflating the balloon slightly, the project can direct a balloon to catch a higher or lower air current. These air currents go different directions, so the key is to put the balloon at the height in which it will catch an air current going the proper direction.

While the original project called for enough balloons to be launched to provide coverage around the globe – internet service for a particular town or village would shift from balloon to balloon as different ones drifted past – now the coverage just has to be enough to keep a smaller loop going. That’s thousands of miles of less coverage needed, because the balloons can stay circling the important points, and don’t have to drift out over the ocean or uninhabited landscapes.

This makes Project Loon much more feasible because it will require far fewer balloons for better coverage.

The end goal of Project Loon is to open up internet access to parts of the world that don’t have traditional cable infrastructure, vastly increasing the number of people who can participate in the information age and the global economy.

By Sharon Campbell