Google turns to France’s space agency for Project Loon expertise

Google isn’t the only one with a thing for balloons. The company announced a partnership with France’s space agency Thursday that will focus on developing internet-carrying balloons that could someday connect the more remote corners of the world.

Google has been working on the balloons, called Project Loon, since 2011. The solar-powered balloons, which are blown around the Earth by wind while sitting in the stratosphere, can beam internet service to anywhere and are much easier and cheaper to launch than satellites. If Google goes through with its plans, it could suddenly have 4 billion more people available to use its services.

The space agency, CNES, has spent the last 30 years researching balloons, which also have applications in weather monitoring and particle physics, with a staff of around 60 people. It will put that to work helping Google develop its next group of balloons.

In exchange, Google will aid CNES on its long balloon flights. Google has had some totally unheard of achievements this year with its balloons, including keeping one aloft for 134 days. An expert told Wired in 2013 that kind of flight time was “absolutely impossible.”

Google partners with Telstra to test Project Loon in Australia

Having already conducted tests in New Zealand, Google will test its connectivity-spouting Project Loon balloons in Australia next month in partnership with local carrier Telstra, according to reports. The Australian Associated Press reported Monday that the agreement will see Google test 20 balloons in the west of the Queensland, with Telstra providing base stations and access to its radio spectrum. Project Loon aims to provide connectivity to hard-to-reach places through an airborne mesh network comprising a floating ring of balloons that follows the winds around the world. As my colleague Kevin Fitchard has noted, there will be serious political and regulatory hurdles to jump if this is to become reality.

Google begins its satellite push, buying Skybox for $500M

Google kicked off what could be a big satellite technology investment spree with a $500 million bid for startup Skybox Imaging. Skybox takes hi-rez images of the Earth’s surface, but Google has broadband plans for the company.