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Sioux Falls Company's Balloon Sales Soar

September 4, 2014, 10:10 PM by Angela Kennecke

Sioux Falls Company's Balloon Sales Soar

A KELOLAND company is instrumental in bringing Internet access to remote areas all around the world.

The balloons for Google's Project Loon are manufactured right here in Sioux Falls. While ballooning may sound "old fashioned," it's about as high-tech as it gets.

Workers in this clean, temperature-controlled room at Raven's Aerostar division are busier than ever. They're turning out balloons at a record pace to fill orders placed by Google. 

"Our phone rang and it was Google.  And they said, 'Hey, we've been trying to get some balloons into the stratosphere and we've been having some trouble.' Ok, we do that," Lon Stroschein, Vice President and General Manger of Raven Aerostar said.

Raven Aerostar first thought they were going to be used as weather balloons.

"It wasn't until three-four months later that we continued to have more and more success that we found out what this was; and that was to connect the world," Stroschein said.

Connecting the world via the Internet is made possible by a Raven Aerostar designed balloon that would stay 70,000 feet in the stratosphere longer than ever thought possible. 

"Normally balloons do that for two to three days before all the helium is vented out. And we've had a balloon last more than 120 days now, which shatters any record that has ever existed before," Stroschein said.

All made from material about the same thickness as a sandwich bag.

"This piece of polyethylene has to endure 30,000 pounds of force when it's pressurized, pulling up and down on it as the same time, while it's negative 90 degrees Celsius," Stroschein said.

Raven's top-secret technology allows the balloon to withstand those challenges, even surprising Google. 

"One of their chief engineers said, 'If we'd known ballooning is harder than rocket science, I don't know if we would have done this. It really is an awesome technology with very simple materials," Stroschein said.

Google has been so pleased with the results it's increased orders by nearly 200 percent.

"Google has it in their core that they want to connect the next billion people and right now the best way they have to do that is on the back of a balloon," Stroschein said.

The success of the Project Loon balloons has the potential to open up many more markets for Raven Aerostar.

"We just think there's a huge future in it, not only for this program, but for other research and communications programs well into the future," Stroschein said.

A future high in the Earth's atmosphere that can make life better on the ground. The balloons are equipped with GPS sensors, so they can be tracked where they come down.  Then they are recycled.

Project Loon Balloons

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