In fulfilling its mission of bringing high-speed wireless internet to every corner of the world with its experiment, Project Loon, Google chose Puerto Rico as one of its base stations for the launch of thousands of balloons that they will send into the stratosphere, in order to provide connection across the planet.
The project, which began in 2013, is now one of the most important initiatives in the hands of the multinational technology company. Google's objective is to offer the possibility of bringing LTE (Long Term Evolution) internet, starting this year, to two thirds of the world population that are still deprived of this technology for financial reasons, due to the lack of infrastructure or the inaccessibility of its communities.
Ingrid Colberg, Ports Authority director, confirmed that Google's new permanent operations for this project are located in the José Aponte de la Torre Airport in Ceiba, where there are already 30 employees working there, including the company's staff that was relocated to the island and the employees that were subcontracted to offer services, such as engineers, investigators and air traffic controllers.
"They chose Ceiba for its location and its proximity to the Equator. They first came in May of last year with a short-term contract for testing purposes, and then last November they formalized their intentions with a five-year lease agreement," stated the director in an interview with Business, El Nuevo Día.
As a result of the arrival of this new tenant, the Ports Authority property will be generating an additional income of $300,000 a year, in addition to the $1.8-million economic impact that will come from improvements to be made to the property.
"They are renting the biggest hangar that the airport has. The improvements will include changes in the electric and lighting system, repairs to the steel and paint, among other things," detailed the spokeswoman.
Before Google's project, the hangar did not have a specific use. The Director explained that movie producers occasionally used it as a shooting destination.
Colberg explained that Puerto Rico turned out to be the ideal strategic location for launching the balloons into the stratosphere, since the island is the only launch pad in the Caribbean within the central region of our hemisphere.
For now, she said that the facility would only be used for launching the balloons. This process is done with a special crane that Google calls "Chicken Little," which they built themselves in Wisconsin, USA, and later brought to Puerto Rico in pieces.
"We took a big step towards that goal this month by sending one of our autolaunchers, Chicken Little, on a working vacation to sunny Puerto Rico. After initial construction and testing in Wisconsin USA, Chicken Little was packed up and shipped to a new location over 3500 km away, where it was reassembled and used to successfully autolauncha handful of test balloons[CB1] ," the company indicated through a written statement.
The crane is 55 feet tall, and it is designed to fill, elevate, and launch tennis-court sized balloons in under 30 minutes.
The Ports Authority Director explained that, for now, the launches would be done twice a month, at night.
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