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The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
Status: [CLOSED]

Biggest issue I can see is getting all that power back to earth - the weight of the cable will be a major chunk or the lift the kite are able to generate. Roll on room temperature superconductors I guess.

Simon | Oct 12, 2007 | 1:42PM

Just wondering how long it will take for luddite "environmentalists" to put in lawsuits objecting that all these tethers will interfere with migrating birds, or some such.

Steven | Oct 12, 2007 | 1:42PM

The answer to "why" could be that, as a major investor, if Makani Power starts selling electricity and making a profit, wouldn't a "major investor" get part of that profit?

Even still, I think it's pretty cool.

Dave M | Oct 12, 2007 | 1:47PM

Another answer to "why" Google is investing is that they build large server farms that require lots of power.

Having the ability to supply a server campus from a set of overhead kite generators, independent of local power utilities, would allow more flexibility in the locations of these facilities. It might even be a profit center as they could sell excess power back to the utility.

Scott M | Oct 12, 2007 | 1:59PM


Thank you for another extremely interesting article. Google does have a vested interest in low power costs and is proactively solving this problem.

Viva Google
Vote Ron Knittle for President

Alex | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:05PM

I think the reason google is doing this is pretty simple.

They use a ton of electricity. They want cheap power. This sounds like a great way to do it, and it costs them very very little (as a % of overall profits).

Plus they would now have a way to make a extremely decetralized network. With the server farm in a box they already have plus a electricity generating kite they can have a google data center anywhere on the planet in no time.

I would imagine a system like this would be esspecially helpful in developing nations that have less reliable power grids.

So this perfectly fits within googles plans for world domination.

Cameron Mulder | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:06PM

Alternative energy production is the next technological boom. Google is just putting themselves in an early position in the industry.

-gary | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:06PM

I posted a similar response I'm about to make in the Dilbert blog recently, but I'll give the abridged version. If we focus real hard and solve our own energy problems and export that technology to other countries to the point that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela will be hurting for business, oil exports-wise, expect a new crop of terrorists from these countries threatening to dismantle these disruptive technologies.
Why would they want to do this, instead of embracing the technologies themselves and learn to diversify and focus different industries? Because they are addicted to the oil revenue and it is a damn sight "easier" to maintain the status quo. Look at Microsoft. Instead of fully embracing the open source model and learning to compete, it is doing everything in its power to maintain the status quo and destroy or co-opt the disrupting influence of open source technology. Why? It's addicted to the money.

Kevin Kunreuther | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:21PM

Never mind the hazard to migrating birds. What about airplanes?

straka | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:22PM

What happens if Bob's MIG hits one of these when it's airborne?

It's an intriguing idea and I would love to hear more about how this works.

Wally Glenn | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:24PM

I've seen this idea before at

I hope the two aren't working completely separately from each other.
I've also seen something like this involving blimps, but I don't remember where I saw it. (I think it was Popular Science.)


IMarvinTPA | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:50PM

Mobile data centers tethered to kites.

Matt Clary | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:50PM

To the guys asking about airplanes - restrict the airspace, and that would solve the problem. 3600 sq miles would be a drop in the bucket compared to the size of the US.

James | Oct 12, 2007 | 2:56PM

1000 meters line length (paragraph 14)means about 3281/1.4= 2320 feet above ground. That's pretty low, will not alleviate eyesore and noise impacts of turbines, nimby syndrome will come into play. Also a hazard to aircraft and birds. Further, winds that low are not as reliable or as fast as at higher altitudes, are more similar to ground winds and variable. Now if you are talking 10 times that altitude, that's different... Winds are much more consistent, faster (and colder), and most birds don't go that high. Still would require an aircraft restricted area all around, tho'.

David Hunt | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:00PM

Might the sunlight reflect off the wings of these devices and back into space? Would that partially counteract the current trend in global warming as an unintended side-effect? To what extent?

J. Braun | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:01PM

Just a thought but wouldn't these kites make a wonderful point to broadcast radio signal from at the same time? If you made sure the power generation didn't interfere of course.

Michael Mallon | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:02PM

Kites tethered at the 1000m (3000 ft) height mentioned in the article would be no problem for aircraft...we'd just have to note the areas on charts, much as gov't and military restricted areas are, but even less so because airliners would easily pass over at their 10k'-35k' ft cruising altitudes.

Chris | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:09PM

Build a series of large floating grid islands in the middle of the Pacific ocean (or base a grid on existing uninhabited islands), raise the kite altitude into the jet stream winds and you're on to a serious winner.

Few birds, insignificant air hazards and limited environmental impact. Plus: absolutely no 'nimby's.

This is a Good Idea™

Ben | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:10PM

Google is not grossly mismanaged.

Q: How do you power your datacenter-in-a-shipping-container in the boonies?

A: Use a tensile wing generator.

Brian Gilstrap | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:11PM

I have mixed feelings about Google. Stuff like this is cool, but then they go and forbid anyone from running google ads that critisize That bothers me.

Like Alan Dershowitz said, "You don't get into the free speech club by defending someone you agree with."

Kelly Parks | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:14PM

I agree with Mr. Mulder above.

Giant power kite + 10^3 lift capacity + Google Boxen = Skynet!

I for one welcome our robot overlords.

Tony | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:20PM

What happens when lightning strikes one of these?

Mauricio Babilonia | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:24PM

And if Google mounts a few cameras on each kite, they gain a localized live feed for Google Earth.

Brent | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:30PM

Um, wait. If this is the way of the future's energy, then wouldn't google make a lot of profit from it?? Wouldn't they be like the next Exxon or whatever?

Bog | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:34PM

>> Build a series of large floating grid islands in the middle of the Pacific

I think you misspelled "oil drilling rig." But why would you need a large floating island? A generator could operate from a ship only as big as the deck needed for launch/recovery. The big problem would be getting the power back to shore.

How about a ship actually POWERED by one of these generators? On the ocean, maybe you need only a few hundred feet of altitude. And a typical container carrier has plenty of deck space. A wind-powered ship that can still travel in any direction.

Ross | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:34PM

Where can you see a picture of these kites?

Steve | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:39PM

>But why would you need a large floating island? A generator could operate from a ship only as big as the deck needed for launch/recovery.

The base needs to be tethered. Otherwise, it will be pulled by the wind force, or you need to provide the balancing force by expending energy. Unless tethered, net energy gain is actually negative because of other losses. You need to be tethered. Did I say it needs to be tethered?

straka | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:47PM

Google wouldn't be getting 'nothing' out of it. I think they use a huge amount of electricity. The cheaper the cost of electricity, the lower their overhead. This might not give them an advantage over Microsoft, but it will benefit their shareholders.

Eric | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:54PM

There is another company with a similar idea (high altitude tethered wind turbines), that uses a helium balloon and the magnus effect (spinning baseball).

look here:

Francis Chow | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:57PM

There is another company with a similar idea (high altitude tethered wind turbines), that uses a helium balloon and the magnus effect (spinning baseball).

look here:

Francis Chow | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:57PM

Bob -
sometimes you come out with stuff that is stunning. I feel like I am reading something Heinlien wrote rather than fact.

hmmm, go fly a kite may take on a whole new meaning !
course bushco will suppress this ASAP, so stay out of gitmo brother.

potterbigdog | Oct 12, 2007 | 3:59PM

Replying to multiple previous comments:

If the kites are low, at the 1000m height mentioned, there WILL be interactions with birds, and environmentalists will have a case (as everyone should know by now, it doesn't take a *good* legal case to cause problems, even a *bad* legal case will do).

At any height, there will be problems from nimby legal cases simply because people will be afraid of something happening to the kite or the cable and it comes falling to the earth. So, no positioning of these kites over populated areas.

No positioning of kites over populated areas ruins synergy with Google datacenters-in-boxes, as part of the point of those datacenters is to distribute the data physically closer to the end users.

Airspace restrictions are huge challenges for these. It's really easy to *say* "restrict the airspace" so that these don't interact with airplanes, and the amount of total area *sounds* small, but airspace rights and restrictions are a very complex web of zones in multiple layers. (See for some info.) The higher you go, the more layers you interact with.

So: The lower the kites are, the easier it is to manage the airspace, but you have to deal with the environmental impact more (e.g. birds, etc.). The higher the kites are, you'll get better wind and less environmental impact, but it's harder to manage the airspace (especially when you get to the more crowded airplane cruising altitudes).

As for these kites reflecting sunlight to reduce global warming: The area of Puerto Rico is 9,104 sq km. The area of the earth is 510,065,600 sq km. Even if the top surfaces of the kites were perfect mirrors, their impact would be insignificant.

There's no way kites like these will replace all other forms of energy generation, due to the multitude of challenges they face. In very specific applications, though, they could prove to be very compelling.

Lun Esex | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:04PM

As long as we're talking sci-fi, we might as well go all the way and do a Dyson Sphere ;-)

straka | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:04PM

I've always thought that traditional philantropy is too focused on giving people fish rather than teaching people how to fish. Too much donation, not enough real (for profit) investment.

johnrob | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:12PM

Airborne things always have problems, not the least of which is, what do you do when you’ve built a lot of dependency on these things and along comes some really bad weather. How do you bring these things down en mass competently?
Google is entertaining far more practical high density alternative energy in the form of ocean wave power. See this youtube Google Tech Talks presentation. It’s about an hour long and very impressive. Tech Talks

JohnH | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:29PM

Google DOES do everything better. Google for president!

Love this piece, had to check the math:

It says:

"the one million megawatts of electricity generated in the U.S. annually"

The "annually" confused me, since watts are a rate of flow of energy, not an amount of energy like the Kilowatt-hours we pay for. Inspired by that admittedly anal nitpick, I looked for and found confirmation of your numbers at:

It shows that our average electrical generation capacity in the US is indeed about a million megawatts.

What a beautiful concept! I hope they make it work.

Cotter | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:30PM

Geez, let's try that wave thing one more time.

JohnH | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:34PM

Perhaps the tethered kites will have wings covered with thin-film photo voltaic material that google is also providing venture capital to produce. I still am worried about the physics of 1000m of lineloss and high voltage AC. It doesn't scare me as much as the concept of beaming microwaves to earth.

crayfishkc | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:46PM

While I was on training at the Mountain View campus, I ended up talking with one of the senior staff in the speech recognition team. His 20% project was working out how to get all of google's energy from renewable sources -- a high priority project. So we had a tech talk from Ocean Power (the people who made the Pelamis wave power system -- which he organised, for example. (Helpful, but not all google datacentres are close to appropriate coastlines). Windpower kites would fit into that overall project.

Aiming to be around for the long haul today as a business does mean making sure that you're not relying on something unsustainable (both economically and environmentally). Using 100% green power has certainly been on Eric Schmidt's mind -- he mentioned it many times while I was at google, and there were zillions of other such green initiatives (e.g. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway was fitted out with a whole-of-life analysis on every material).

Greg Baker | Oct 12, 2007 | 4:53PM

Wonder if USAF could be persuaded to launch for a fee? The F-15 is also the 1st stage for a (now defunct) ASAT missile and has a higher ceiling. I'd rather see the job done with something domestic, but spare parts for an F-4 or century series bird might be a bit difficult.

Tim | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:00PM

Why would Google do this?

Why would they not?

Google wants cheap power. You did the math yourself, Dr. Cringely.

Matthew | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:03PM

Proposals have been made recently relating to wind-based power generated by huge windmills that are located off shore, much like oil rigs. In South Carolina where we have plenty of shoreline, the state's energy monopoly says it would prohibitively costly to get the generated electricity back to shore and into the power grid. I have no idea if they are correct or just protecting the status quo. If you assume they are correct, however, wouldn't off-shore tethered kites face the same problem? Wouldn't tethered kites have to be land based in order to be cost effective?

Skip | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:10PM

Why would Google or any entrepreneur risk money on these experimental energy concepts. A lot of risk up front just to get commodity energy pricing some year down the road. If they gain any serious traction, OPEC can simply drop prices and take the wind out of their sails. Five years of cheap crude would dry up funding for these ventures. Remember the 70’s?
Here’s the thing, when bush&co get out of the way, carbon tax credits will be worth as much as the actual electrons! That’s where the money is.

MoldyJohn | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:11PM

I always enjoyed Pete Lynn's usenet posts on space and energy issues. And then on March 2006 he stopped posting to usenet. I guessed he found something better to do than waste his time on usenet and secretly hoped he was working on this kite power generation idea. It turns out I was right. I googled his name a couple of days ago and found Makani's new web site. Their site was unveiled about two weeks ago. Before that it looked like this. Talk about stealth mode.

It looks like Makani is no longer in Emeryville - they are conveniently located in one of the warehouses near the decomissioned Alameda Naval Air Station which provides plenty of open space for experiments. Has anyoned noticed strange kites over Alameda Point?

Oren Tirosh | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:13PM

>> Just wondering how long it will take for luddite "environmentalists" to put in lawsuits objecting that all these tethers will interfere with migrating birds, or some such.

And I wonder how long it will take backwards-looking republican oil barons to either stop this effort or buy it out & deep-six it to protect their obscene profits at American expense!

Gary Lehnertz | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:13PM

I think the point here is that Google (a very well-off and socially-responsible company in general) is being very long-term in its outlook. This is a "good thing", although it violates the "coproration's first responsibility is to the stockholders" mantra of efficient markets. The problem is that most corporate enterprises don't have enough spare profit to be able to do anything philanthropic that stockholders would put up with.

Maybe Google is the PBS of venture capitalism. Stockholders buy their stock with the understanding that they may not make quite as much money as if they were purely short-term capitalistic, but that this is good for humanity in the long run. (and they may make that profit back if they live long enough)

Someone needs to address alternative (non-fossil) energy before the costs come in like with the rest of the fossil-fuel economics, because by the time the economics make sense, it'll be too late.

This is (arguably) the "teach them to fish" model. Gates is giving ill-gotten millions/billions back to others in for the same reason that Nobel did (to protect his name in posterity). (Remember that Nobel was an arms/explosives manufacturer.) But Google is taking more socially-defendable profits and putting them to work in the spirit that the Nobel Prize adheres - fostering research (and improvements) for the benefit of mankind. That is a much nobler purpose. (pun NOT intended)

straka | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:30PM
It is rare for a public corporation to do more than token philanthropy and completely unknown for one to catalyze what could be such a fundamental change in how we live just to save some money and save the environment. Google can do it because Google is making huge profits. But Microsoft makes huge profits, too, and Microsoft has never done anything like this.

I can only conclude, then, that Google must be grossly mismanaged.

Or perhaps Google is adhering to their policy of "don't be evil" - perhaps they see their data centers as needing so much energy that if they can lower the cost of getting energy then it would save them it would work in their favor to do so.

Also, BillyG was never really a philanthropist - that's why he's on such a mission now to make himself look like one. He was always for the hawking of money into his own wallet. He was also never an innovator, and always a bit behind the technological curve. Despite all that, he was ruthless enough that he managed to become infamous and make Microsoft what it is.

So, we have real philanthropists behind Google. Cool. And even cooler still - they are putting their money where their mouth is, or sometimes even putting money out before they speak, which is cooler yet.

So I, for one, welcome our Google overlords. They're doing a great job, and will be known for a lot more than Google - unlike BillyG and Balmer who will only be know for Microsoft. Heck, even Steve Jobs is known for more than Apple (Pixar, NextOS, etc).

TemporalBeing | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:33PM

It looks like Makani is no longer located in Emeryville.

According to Google Maps they are now conveniently located in a warehouse next to the decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Station, providing lots of room for experiments.

Has anyone in the area noticed any strange kites over Alameda Point?

Oren Tirosh | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:45PM

Hopefully Lynn will make some money off his ideas so he can buy a textbook and learn the difference between "infer" and "imply."

Matt | Oct 12, 2007 | 5:47PM

Google is obviously trying to take over the world. I believe that the corporate officers secretly spend much their spare time watching Pinky and the Brain reruns. That can be the only rational conclusion for their actions. "Narff!"

Greg Connaughton | Oct 12, 2007 | 6:34PM

$75,000 for an airplane based in Europe. That's really cheap. Used Katana's are going for $75,000 over there as well, but $40,000 here. The difference illustrates how much we've lost ground against the Euro.

Coincidently, I'm looking to buy a $40,000 Katana this winter. It's interesting to think that had it not been for the implosion of the US dollar, I would have been able to afford a MIG!

Good luck with your aircraft purchase!

David White | Oct 12, 2007 | 6:37PM

Ok, it's not just a warehouse - Makani (and the rest of the SQUID companies) are located in the old control tower!

Saul Griffith on O'Reilly Radar

Oren Tirosh | Oct 12, 2007 | 6:38PM

Greg, I think you're right about the Pinky & The Brain reruns. Why, just the other day I overheard Larry Page asking, "What are we going to do today, Brin?" His cohort replied, "Same thing we always do, Larry ... try and take over the world."

ScrewMaster | Oct 12, 2007 | 7:13PM

Google's main cost apart from staff is electricity (I think). Surely it makes sense for them to look at ways to save energy?

Although equally, they do have more money than pretty much anything. Good a way as any to use those piles.

on the little dig at Microsoft, they may not be investing in good companies - but the Gates fund does seem to be on the way to making a difference.

Malcolm Murdoch | Oct 12, 2007 | 7:43PM

The Mig-23 lunch vehicle sounds yummy. I also like the wind charge space craft that charges up while riding on the belly of the Mig taking in supersonic winds to power it's launch into the moons orbit. Sounds like it will require the space vehicle to have a wind turbine receptor and separate dual fuel propulstion engines that can get hte craft back from the moon. If reversing the wind energy to wind propulsion doesn't work and im not a rocket scientist so im going out on a limb here, that gravity and the weight of air at time of air launch doesn't mix or I should say the use of air to propel at 40,000 feet has not enough mass to push mass, I would simply add water to increase the mass of propulsion along with the wind mix should push the TC craft to the moon. Good luck to you real brains out there, thats all I got for now.

Ed | Oct 12, 2007 | 7:50PM

There's some discussion about this topic over at The poster is rooting for Cringely, but doesn't think he'll win in the end. I hope he wins, because it will show NASA that they spend too much money.

Matt | Oct 12, 2007 | 10:31PM

If Google or whoever can get this technology working and into production, the implications for developing nations (and hence the global environment) are fantastically great.

There is widespread concern that the continued development of China's economy might have to be driven by coal-generated energy, with terrible environmental implications. The idea that China, the source of kite-flying (, could instead satisfy all of its energy needs by... flying kites... is just so appropriate it's unreal...

Emlyn | Oct 12, 2007 | 11:32PM

The low price of mig23 is an illusion.

The mig23 is high maintenance.
You will have to hire some imported full time mechanics to keep it going.
And you will need a lot of tools and fixtures and parts and supplies.

I think it would be better to lease an older cargo plane (707, 727, etc) as needed. Lot of retired ones sitting around doing nothing. And no problem getting parts or trained mechanics or trained pilots.

Bert Douglas | Oct 13, 2007 | 12:00AM

Seems obvious to me why Google would support this - cheap energy means cheaper data centers.

$10 million is peanuts compared to what they're spending on data centers - and probably the energy for those data centers.

Richard Steven Hack | Oct 13, 2007 | 12:02AM

The Italian's also have this idea of using kites

They solve getting power down to the ground by keeping the giant rotor on the ground driven by kites in the air. They are testing protypes already.

Mike Evans | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:05AM

@ ross

"How about a ship actually POWERED by one of these generators? On the ocean, maybe you need only a few hundred feet of altitude. And a typical container carrier has plenty of deck space. A wind-powered ship that can still travel in any direction."


--> even without energy conversion.
And yes, although there´s no engine involved, those ships can travel in any direction, just like ordinary yachts - People call that "beating about"

matt | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:15AM

I'm just wondering how these kits would handle lightening strikes, could that energy be used too ?

As for Microsoft, they seem to be too busy trying to kill off any new ideas that don't originate from them and unfortunately that seems to be most of them.

PJB | Oct 13, 2007 | 6:01AM

The Italian's also have a more updated site, check:

paolo | Oct 13, 2007 | 6:10AM

Sorry, with the link:

Video of a working prototype, too

paolo | Oct 13, 2007 | 6:17AM

Biggest challenge I see to this and solar is, the energy source is to dependent on the weather and (in solar the time of day) to be used without some type of intermediate storage medium. Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes come and you can't shut down the electricity grid. So you have to be able to store and stockpile the generated energy. coal and nuclear stations can power up and down on demand, unlike this technology.

So the problem here is the same as the electric car. How do you efficiently store and transport electrical energy? Leads us back to batteries or hydrogen technology, which are a long way from being efficient.

Obviously the difference between Google and Microsoft is Google actually does have a clue, other than how to use hard line business practices to strong arm and bully your competitors and customers. Microsoft never did innovate anything, and with ample time and money have never shown the ability to learn. Looks to me like they're following in the footsteps of GM, just about 35 years behind.

mac84 | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:14AM

The use of an off the shelf launch plane is brilliant. I was reading up on the ceiling for the MiG-23 and see why it was chosen. It has a ceiling of 60,000 feet. Virgin I think was planing some sort of launch at 50,000 feet. So it is clear that a MiG-23 with a heavier pay load can do a launch at 50,000 feet safely. As far as leasing. Not a good idea the cost of leasing during trials and several launches would run in the millions.

The cost of buying a modified MiG-23 to be used as a Space Launch Vehicle less than $100,000.

The cost of a MiG-23 with alterations $200,000.

The odds of a MiG-23 becoming a future cash asset for the company, Priceless.

MasterCard you can't get to the Moon without it.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:27AM

The use of an off the shelf launch plane is brilliant. I was reading up on the ceiling for the MiG-23 and see why it was chosen. It has a ceiling of 60,000 feet. Virgin I think was planing some sort of launch at 50,000 feet. So it is clear that a MiG-23 with a heavier pay load can do a launch at 50,000 feet safely. As far as leasing. Not a good idea the cost of leasing during trials and several launches would run in the millions.

The cost of buying a modified MiG-23 to be used as a Space Launch Vehicle less than $100,000.

The cost of a MiG-23 with alterations $200,000.

The odds of a MiG-23 becoming a future cash asset for the company, Priceless.

MasterCard you can't get to the Moon without it.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:29AM

Google doesn't want to be a search engine.

Google doesn't want to be an advertising company.
Google doesn't want to be an ISP.

Google doesn't want to be a Co-lo.

Google doesn't want to be a power company.

Google wants to be the most interesting company in the world. So far they are succeeding.

Eric | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:35AM

I'm in it for the cheese

The gravitational pull is 1/6th but the temp great for a wind engine craft but the temps reach 240 degrees. ouch Not good for plastic parts.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:56AM

I think the several rovers launched to the moon is viable. They could collectivelly attach to each other with homing devices. Transforming from metalic bucky balls into four legged Orsen Wells Bots.

The Bots could also become the first robots to set up radio stations at different landing locations on the moon creating a Moon Syms Universe. "This is CT-4 broadcasting all the way across the moon to CT-7, how bout it Ct-7 do you read, CT-5 washed out... do you read, I got you CT-4 load and clear, but right now im going to play a little blast from the past, The 1985 movie Back to the Future, a tune called "EARTH ANGEL" Performed by Marvin Berry & The Starlighters after that we will back it up with "BACK IN TIME" Performed by Huey Lewis and The News ... This is CT-7 all Bot the Moon. Brought to you by Team Cringely, Just when you thought you have seen it all Team Cringely shows you a little more. To all you CT-Bots out there Ah-Mooooooooooooooon!

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 11:21AM

A weather ballon to the Moon? Brilliant!

What have ya got now? A Kite, Brilliant!

Keep em guessing, whats that? a Bananna boat, Brilliant!

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 12:53PM

Uh... You do actually know that altitude has nothing to do with achieving orbital velocity (somewhere around 5,000 mph), don't you?

A balloon launch does gives you the advantage of lessened air resistance, and perhaps you can float to the equator for a bit of extra velocity from the Earth's rotation... but what are you actually gaining in terms of making the rocket itself cheaper?

John | Oct 13, 2007 | 1:58PM

1. show me a balloon that can travel at 5000 mph.
(wow! a balloon going 5000 mph really, wow!)
2. A ground launch will expend millions of dollars over the span of the project. A reusable craft that takes the "second stage" to sub space .... well, U do the math
The reason I believe promagnon are stuck on rocket launches from the ground is because it is what you are programed to seeing from NASA. They spend billions to get the crafts back because they spend billions on so many of them so they can rotate the ships and not use the same one in the next launch.
Or perhaps it's all the visuals of satellites being launched to put something in orbit and cloud the stratosphere with space debris. Are we getting there?
Besides the space station was the first attempt to spell RELIEF from the cost of repeated launches at a cost that was crippling the space industry not just in the U.S. How fast we forget all the hype of not have the resources to get goods to the space station.
The space station indeed served two purposes. to put a lab in space to test livability in weightlessness and stuff and to cut the cost of throwing billions into thin air ea stuff you will never see again with the exception of an sat or two dozen.
So the space balloon im assuming you propose will cost five bucks and it will work the first time and won't get scrubbed the first time the balloon that isn't novel collaspes and falls back to earth will no pilot like a reusable air launch vehicle. You would face winding up in a jail in Turkey. When they cry. Who's throwing balloons!
You have a point as well as most here. But like I have said before when it comes to air launch vehicies, the math has been done by those already that are... Brilliant!

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 2:55PM

John, air resistance scales with frontal area of the rocket while thrust scales with volume. This means that small rockets get a much bigger penalty from sea level launches than heavy rockets. So if you want to build the smallest and lightest rocket then some kind of high altitude launch (balloon, mig, kite, whatever) is definitely the way to go!

...assuming your goal is to launch the civilian equivalent of sputnik to go beep beep.

But that's not what the Google challange is about. The mass you need to insert to LEO to go from there to the lunar surface, land safely and then roam around is probably at least couple of tons. So liftoff mass is over 100 tons. At this size air resistance is no longer a very big issue. Slinging something of this weight under an aircraft is.

Bob, you should be buying a Dnepr, not a MiG.

Oren Tirosh | Oct 13, 2007 | 2:56PM

Google is investing in extraordinary power generating options because they are trying to cut their own costs. I believe it is that simple. They'll hype the idea that this is for the planet's benefit. However, this is nothing more than true capitalism. And, by them finding an alternative to their high priced power requirements benefiting their bottom line they, also, address a global issue. If this did not positively impact their financials then cheap, low polluting power would not be an investment for them.

Jed | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:06PM

Simon is right - the cable is the issue for the kite generators. has spoken on this a number of times.

Brian SJ | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:10PM

A majority of the $0.08 to $0.12 per kwh we pay at retail is for the distribution and delivery of that electricity. Even in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the electricity generation is from hydroelectric sources powered by the sun, we still pay hefty rates.

Andrew Sweger | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:20PM

I'm have seen the words 100 tons posted before. Do you mean 10 ton payload or the total weight of a three stage rocket with fuel, boosters, landing capsule, and payloads launching from the ground. The weight you quote is confusing. What weighs 100 tons? Where do you get that weight?

a 100 ton wing ... brilliant!

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:28PM

Google one day will have a zero carbon foot print and zero overhead cost. Their stock will be $1000 a share and those companies that lease everyting in their buisness while diluting their stock with billions of share will be trading at five bucks. You hate em but you got to love em. They learned that following the norm was laced with quarterly mistakes. Out of the box buisness plans, to cover their asssets... brilliant!

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:47PM

Andrew, unless your company is pumping surplus electricity back into the power grid. The electric company pays you. It is being done by home owners. Google Electric Co. hummm? ha ha

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 3:53PM

Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
>What happens when lightning strikes one of these?

Good point. Given the height of that conducting cable strikes would seem to be highly likely. Perhaps they could be harvested? (What's the state of capacitor technology that could accomplish that? And how would the amount of energy compare to that from wind?)

And wouldn't there be a static gradient even in clear air? I seem to recall an article (Popular Mechanics, perhaps) about building one's own Wimhurst machine which mentioned that the voltage potential increases with height (at a low amperage).

Doug | Oct 13, 2007 | 4:40PM

I sent a simular invention to a group earlier this year. There are a lot of inventions being churned out to get rid of oil dependence. They speak of Hybrid coax cables to transmit current to a base generator. The Lightning rub, I don't think they can succesfully harvest it in a flexable cable without something melting. That's why lightning rods are solid ...plastic. :)

Right now someone is inventing the four cable kite with a central lightning rod, which won't work either. The connecting cable brackets will melt.

oh darn, I burnt my vittles!

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 5:46PM

error posting, im not sure if most recent went thru. But it had to do with a flexible cable getting fried by lightning. Anything that plyable won't imo withstand a lightning strike.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 6:12PM

Don't get me wrong. A one inch in diameter copper rod 10,000 feet in the air would bend like rubber. But the transmitting cable will still get toasted. How many wind mills could Google had bought for that 10 mil.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 6:19PM

An Italian company called Sequoia Automation is pursuing a similar kite based electricity generator.
The project is called Kitegen


O | Oct 13, 2007 | 9:31PM

Saved the world with only $10 million dollars?
Wow what a bargain for a Nobel prize!
Methinks that, if ever embodied in real life, it may not work all that well, and possibly constitute nothing but a gigantic, menacing safety hazard (opinion rendered at the risk of seeming to pooh-pooh the idea).
Rather than philanthropic motivation, it seems to me more like a shrewd gamble on getting into something potentially very lucrative, and you can hardly lose even if Makina winds up creating nothing but some intellectual property.
Fellow Calgarian David Keith warned back in 2004 about some possible environmental impact of large scale wind farms. [see link]
Imagine the risk of something like these mammoth kites, wearing down the jet stream on such a monumental scale!
In the end it'll prove to be nothing but a different type of problem, I'd wager.

Grunchy | Oct 13, 2007 | 9:37PM

Years ago there were two category of complaints about wind farms and to this day they are still the same complaints. Two Categorys - Loud propeller noise and dead birds, ducks and one dragon.

From street cars, to bumper cars, to watching circus high wire acts, the parting of the Red Sea, drag races, shooting a rocket to the moon, to Ben Franklin's kite. Man has been mistified in things that run along a track or trajectory. Fraudian? you tell me.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:12PM

The KiteGen videos are interesting but getting power in massive amounts seem distant. I like the demos with the light saber. Who knows all these ten year projects may pan out to something. I'm trying to focus on space ships and rovers. It is really hard for me because I have not been in favor of the 100 billion dollar figure kicked around for NASA when people are homeless and starving on Earth. I am still trying to feel this thing. But am seeing a lot of C-Span lobbying. Somebody put the kite on the moon and it will hold my intrest. So let me see if I got this so far. A MiG-23 to 60,000 feet at that time a rocket is fired at the moon before it hits it releases 20 bails of hay with kites that deploy, gliding the bails to the moons surface. The rovers chew their way out of the hay bails and meet up at the 'man in the moon'.

Ed | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:47PM

Bob, I have been looking at jet stream maps every day for quite a while, published by our meteorology
service. I have noticed that they change direction
and trajectory every day , and no doubt airspeed also. Howdo you propose to get around this with tethered kites?

Peter Innis | Oct 13, 2007 | 10:59PM

Bob, just think of all the servers that Google runs, and then think of trying to pay their electricity bill! I can see why they would invest in something like this, the advantages to them are huge, and the amount invested is small.

And if it works, can be scaled to replace complete power plants, and can be run at a profit, they've just given their investors another bonus.

Microsoft wouldn't think of something like this, their power requirements aren't of the same order.

Wayne | Oct 13, 2007 | 11:01PM

This thing would be a magnet for lightning. How long before an airplane collides with this thing. It kind of reminds me of some of the problems with a space elevator.

Larry | Oct 13, 2007 | 11:20PM
his could be another reason why google is interested in kites. Kite is better then balloons, right?

Einer | Oct 14, 2007 | 3:22AM

MMGW - Man Made Global Warming. The modern day boogy man. Unfortunately for me anyone who lends the slightest credence in this patently absurd idea loses credibility with me. A few short years from now when the solar cycle switches downward you will find out what a ride you have been taken on by the be-robed high priests of this religion. The reason to do any energy source is 1- because its cheaper 2- because its NOT from the middle east and / or reduces our trade deficit. Really yourself a favor and don't make yourself looking like a clown. The Nobel prize committee has already done such a job of making a future fool of themselves that they will never recover. Global warming, Global cooling...ever notice its only liberals who want to take your freedoms away and ALWAYS want to tax more that support these kinds of ideas? Gravity does not have a political constituency, MMGW does...funny but physical principles are a-political aren't they?

Fred | Oct 14, 2007 | 3:48AM

So here's what I learned from the comments section so far.

The entire Nobel Prize committee, consisting of some of the brightest folks in the entire world, are not as smart as Fred.

Robert, who has been writing about science and technology for PBS since, well, dust had a first birthday, is a clown and not as smart as Fred.

Al Gore, who is a world leader, former congressman, former senator and former vice president, scroed a 1355 on his SATs and graduated Harvard with not as smart as Fred.

I move we elect Fred king of the world, since he is obviously the smartest human on record and can save the world. I don't know why it took us this long to find him. God bless Fred, please bestow us your beneveloent wisdom.


Robert Pitera | Oct 14, 2007 | 9:22AM

Hey Bob,

it seems like you missed a trick here; a technology that can cheaply lift 1000 tonnes up a string has application in the single largest growth area for middle east hydrocarbon dependence; you even listed a 747-400 as your weight reference.

How many _unladen_ (no fuel, no engines) 300+ passenger vehicles can such an arrangement lift? How cheaply? How quietly? Can we now integrate airports into downtown (rather than far-out-of-town) bus+rail hubs? Eliminate air-traffic-noise-distribution arrangements, atmospheric albedo changes (make SE-England less cloudly!) and knock out the fastest growing area of the world's oil-dependence.

Oh and as for Google being mismanaged, a company that has "Do no evil" as its slogan doesn't require the services of a blue monster to get it into changing the world; but in this case I'd suggest that philanthropy is not involved; there really is a likelihood of profit, if they can get this, erm, off the ground.

Roland Turner | Oct 14, 2007 | 9:29AM

Thanks for the laugh Robert!!

Tteddo | Oct 14, 2007 | 11:11AM

Bob, I agree with the Goog looking into all energy sources.
Who else is doing it the government? As for the Mig I donno.
As for an aircraft......Wright on brothers.

FastFred | Oct 14, 2007 | 12:14PM

All criticism aside, Google is one of those companies that stands up to the status quo.

I'm tired of companies like Microsoft, the telecoms, and the Oil companies just milking us consumers and not truly innovating.

The forces of Google are going to change some industries like software and telecom, if they become involved. With the investment in this energy firm, maybe they'll break some of the stranglehold on the energy market.

Jay Patel | Oct 14, 2007 | 3:55PM

It's Peter Lynn's son Pete Lynn who is working for Makani :-)

Kites are underrated. Flexifoil's creators Merry & Jones were designing portable lifting apparatus to operate where traditional mechanical cranes were useless (or even too small) in the early 1970s ...

Jim Cheetham | Oct 14, 2007 | 4:50PM

The thing about David Keith's warning about mega-scale wind farming is the fact that even moderate changes to El Niño create mucho-big weather pattern shifts. Now, Dr. Keith's comments had been based upon ground-level farms (I think); not the extreme notions that are being proposed here.
Here's a more-or-less general truism for you: the higher the altitude, the more fragile is the ecosystem. So, do you seriously think you can suck all that power out of those high altitude winds with no ramifications whatsoever?
It is with PROFOUND disappointment that I had read Kitegen's "environmental impact" page and saw the regret they feel for one of the biggest impacts,the shadows that will be cast. Talking about evil, lying corporations....!

The average lightning bolt consists of about 500MJ or about 140 kWh (approx $15 worth of power). Not worth the effort to try to harvest, I'd say... but the big problem is its massive power at about 100 trillion Watts. That is a gigantic kick in the teeth to anything, whether electronic or not!

Other comments about high altitude phenomena: the higher you go the less air traffic there is; also less wildlife; colder temperatures; lower air pressure; higher wind speeds; etc. The upshot of all that, I believe, is that the energy density tends to decline with increasing altitude. The energy density of the hydrological cycle is one of the highest; solar is pretty good (on sunshiny days at least); wind is pretty low, and I would *guess* (off the cuff) that high altitude wind is lower still. SURE the windspeed is high, but what is the amount of energy carried on that thin wind?

Lastly one of the best means of storing mounds of excess power is as water behind a hydro dam; plus it piles up lots of fresh water at the same time! Nothing wrong with having lots of fresh water.

Grunchy | Oct 14, 2007 | 8:43PM

I'm surprised you think it is philanthropy, think again. The big difference between Google and companies like Microsoft is that Google is 90% infrastructure. They need power, lots of it, to keep expanding.

As has been noted elsewhere, Google is building a number of large data centers, and is tending to do so in places that are remote while still having access to hydropower or other decent power supplies.

Google must realize that this is only a short-term solution. Long-term they need to make their own power. Being energy self-sufficient will also bring down their recurring costs (electricity must be one of their largest outlays even now). You can bet this wind experiment is only one thing they are trying (their massive main campus solar installation for example).

And the power initiative is just like the bandwidth initiative (own your own, don't pay monthly fees to anyone to exist).

There will be benefits to the rest of us only as a side-effect of Google looking out for #1.

Joe Pantuso | Oct 14, 2007 | 9:27PM

Cannot claim to have ever priced out supersonic aircraft, and I do assume that Bob has done his homework on this, but is a Mig-23 really the best choice for this application? The only reason I question it is because I did see Bob's TV movie about the first time he ever tried to build an airplane and that didn't turn out to be a very good choice. It just seems that there should be better (cheaper to maintain and operate) choices for this launch aircraft. But, I can't claim to know that for sure.

As for the Google kites, well, I would be willing to make wager that this idea will never provide any signficant energy to the nation's power grid (or any place else in the world). This idea will turn out like pretty much like all of the other alternative energy ideas I've read and studied about for the past 30+ years (and almost all of them were discussed in Mother Earth News 30-35 years ago), the only way it will ever provide any grid power at all is with heavy taxpayer subsidies. Besides, the idea that carbon dioxide gas is a pollutant is sheer silliness anyway. CO2 is one of the most important, life-sustaining gases in our planets atomsphere. If we could manage to increase the CO2 concentration in the atomsphere a 100x, the only measureable effect would be greener, healthier plant life.

Robert | Oct 14, 2007 | 10:08PM

Did I miss something here? So you've got all these kites aloft and generating electricity. What happens when there's no wind? Do they just drop out of the sky?

Jim | Oct 14, 2007 | 11:22PM

So what happens when the MIG connects with one of those kite cables?

halverg | Oct 15, 2007 | 12:58AM

Another interesting research project is the Laddermill, which uses kites traveling upward and downward on a circular line. One advantage of that design is that it can use the energy at high altitudes (up to 30.000 feet). Also, there is very little sideways movement, so Laddermills can be placed close together. More info:

Wouter | Oct 15, 2007 | 6:33AM

Wow, you completely missed the time portion of global power production. We produce 8,730,400,000 MegaWatt Hours from October 2005 to October 2006. This is _SUBSTANTIALLY_ different from 1 million MWH that you assume for your article.

A sanity check on your figures should have also raised questions. Currently, we produce approx 1% of our electricity worldwide from wind. Let's assume that is linear for the US. We have approx 1,700 wind turbines. If we assume their power output would increase by a factor of 9 when lofted as a kite, we still end up with 18,700 kites needing to be lofted. Again, you have not factored out a bunch of capacity you are going to lose when you convert from ideal to real, but it is a sanity check. That is ideal. Factor out utilization and that will probably increase by at least a factor of 8 bringing us to 149,600 generators to replace the existing base load. Factor out line losses from each tether being approx 5 miles long to reach the upper winds and 748,000 miles of line loss suddenly enter the picture.

I used to help with power generation calculations for a small utility company in the mid-central states. I will have to make some assumptions and see if I can document a reasonable guess as ideally operating conditions. I will admit that my wind power experience is fairly lacking, but I think I can find some people in the industry to help.

I hope somebody with far more wind-power related experience weighs in, but from my quick glance, I think you are way off.

Robin Holt | Oct 15, 2007 | 9:36AM

For the reader above, the wind is constant in the upper troposphere. Here's a website that talks about it.

sqsimpson | Oct 15, 2007 | 9:40AM

Why bother solving the problem of transmitting all that power. Just put photocells and processors on the kite, hook up some fiber and you have a data center in the sky. It would be tricky to change out the failing hard drives and serve gourmet food up there, but if anyone can find a way it will be google.

B | Oct 15, 2007 | 9:49AM

First of all I'm very skeptical that this idea can work, but IF it does, Google would be taking majority market share of US energy production. That's a lot of money! They're not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.

Oh, and it hasn't been proven that human-created carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming.

Mark | Oct 15, 2007 | 10:19AM

They are saying in the news Steve Fossett likely lost forever.
I think there is a chance trade winds, up drafts or isobars what ever abnornal wind condition might had something to do with this. If he lost conciousness after take off and the winds changed his coarse he might be in a different area than where they are looking. Like a national forest.

Ed | Oct 15, 2007 | 10:33AM

The "Why" is electrical power. Google needs it (and a lot of it) for their datacenters which is why they have been strategically placing them near cheap hydro power. If proven viable, these kite generators would allow google to locate datacenters in regions they can not currently due to high electricity costs. The resulting power would be so cheap as to dramatically decrease the overhead for the datacenters, which is great for google and would easily pay for the project. Even if it does not pan out, they can write off the investment as a loss, so it is a win for google either way.

This assumes the technology is sound, which may be a big assumption.

Brian | Oct 15, 2007 | 10:45AM

As a planet we'll need about 50TW by the middle of the century. That would take quite a few kites. Why would you only have one generator per tether though?

But, if you can generate enough electricity from these on the oil rigs, you can hook up George Olah's reverse fuel cells and push CO2 through them to make butynol which can be used in place of gasolines. Especially useful for oil rigs on oil fields which have gone empty and might otherwise be considered useless.

Do aeronautic GPS systems and autopilots already know how to route around restricted airspace? Keeping the data feeds on these kite sites up to date might be a hard synchronization problem, not from a technical, but from a human perspective.

As to the birds - we kill 100,000,000 birds on the highway every year and I don't hear anybody trying to outlaw automobile traffic to save the birds.

Bill McGonigle | Oct 15, 2007 | 12:55PM

Steve Fossett plane could be in a cavernous ravine or what about after it hit it triggered a huge rock slide covering the plane.

Ed | Oct 15, 2007 | 2:35PM

So you're suggesting we evacuate Puerto Rico and turn it into our little energy factory?

Hmm...I like it.

Steven Sokulski | Oct 15, 2007 | 5:54PM

Are you really asking why? Oil is (hopefully) running low. I don't think that we'll do anything about the global warming other than running out of oil. But the ones who find the new energy sources are going to be VERY rich. Like oil companies today. So it's that easy.

And yes, in addition to business reasons, the Google top management might be the exception amongst the billionaires who act like most people think they would act if they would become rich. They might try to be good guys. I guess it feels good.

They're also celver because they invest in something that's totally unrelated to their current core business.

Laszlo Marai | Oct 15, 2007 | 6:48PM

If you are serious about getting something into orbit, try to recruit Tony Dupont. One of THE Duponts, he has a degree in aeronautical engineering and his own firm. I met him a few years back when we both were part of the National Aerospace Plane project. If you get him on board, he will be a valuable source of ideas and information.

Kervyn Mach | Oct 15, 2007 | 8:03PM

Units calculation errors are the bane of engineers. Learn to use at least Unicalc Live for your 'back of the envelope calculations':

If you get serious about some design, best graduate to TK!Solver (which is what I used to run models of the ultracentrifugal rocket engine Roger Gregory and I designed).

James Bowery | Oct 15, 2007 | 9:12PM

I don't think a MiG-23 has enough payload. The F-15 was used for a similar idea, but that was to low orbit and it was big enough. To get to the moon and land... I doubt it but feel free to prove me wrong!

Andrew Glina | Oct 15, 2007 | 9:31PM

Weld two MiG-23's cabins with jet engines side by side and you would have two rocket engines twice the carry capability, you will. Twin passenger compartments, you also get. Saw something simular in the movie Sahara, I did.

Ed | Oct 15, 2007 | 10:25PM

Google's #1 expense is power.

Same for AOL.

Same for Yahoo.

The Invisible Hand is pressing hard on any company that uses larges amounts of data center space and the corresponding amount of power.

Amazingly enough, here's a way for self-interest and public interest to coincide. It's a beautiful thing.

Michael Nygard | Oct 16, 2007 | 12:17AM

Orbital Sciences has for years been using an old Lockheed L1011 to launch their rockets. A MiG-23 might be noisy and fun but might only be able to get a marble into orbit. The F-15 thing was an ASAT test conducted with the idea of knocking down a satellite in low Earth orbit. They got the ASAT vehicle up there but it was strictly an up and down ballistic trajectory. You need big things to get into orbit and even bigger things to get to the Moon - and return, of course.

Virgil H. Soule | Oct 16, 2007 | 1:09AM

leave it to google to get all the good engineers!!!!!! ;) i knew i should have persued that job in 01 when i was an out of work software engineer in S.F. oh well, if they produce energy that cheaply, money wont be near as important at today.... electric trucks, trains, planes, and autos, anyone? and battery tech is advancing fast too.... i'd be nice to not have oil and money be so important, wouldn't it?

Google is the bomb.

bruce m.

bruce | Oct 16, 2007 | 1:14AM

Space also, the cost will come down if you increase the scale. I see model rocket builders getting into the OEM market (Honest Charlie) for off the shelf space vehicle parts.

Ed | Oct 16, 2007 | 9:18AM

"A MiG-23 might be noisy and fun but might only be able to get a marble into orbit."

Hmm.... ... a marble...

... or a remote-controlled beachball? I begin to see the larger picture.

Rob Preece | Oct 16, 2007 | 12:17PM


I disagree that Microsoft has not done as much in philanthropy as Google. Microsoft is the world's leading provider of research dollars for Malaria and other tropical diseases. That is before Mr. Buffet decided to donate to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I dislike Microsoft and their ethics, but greatly respect them for their efforts on philanthropy.

bt | Oct 16, 2007 | 2:27PM

i am willing to bet a decent sum that these electricity generating kites will be never seen in operation. and not because of bush and halliburton, but because they are an impractical, wacky idea. looks good on paper (or in dreams), thats all.
generating electricity on a large scale with wind or sunlight is just daydreaming.
Bob, i used to read your columns with the greatest interest, but since you deal with politics, disappointment hit me.

gianmarco | Oct 16, 2007 | 2:33PM

All's clear at last - a reason why the USA loves Puerto Rico. No doubt the Puerto Ricans will all love the USA when whichever President unilaterally (Bush-style) makes their country one mass of tethered kites (Hot press, June 1, 2009, President says "The Puerto Rican people wanted power so we gave 'em it".)

You left out one fact - how many tethered flying wings will provide enough lift to make Puerto Rico take off? (Weight of Puerto Rico in tons / 1000 = ?)

Paul Temple | Oct 16, 2007 | 4:16PM

As an aerospace engineer, a private pilot, and someone who has been in the energy business for over 17 years, the idea of having 10,000 tether-to-the-ground kites to generate electricity, that is when weather permits their use, is so full of holes that one could build a dissertation around the idea's rebuttal. Here's a biggie--this is an aviation hazard that the FAA will stop dead in its tracks.

When there are so many other sources of power that don't pollute and that we "know" how to use--nuclear comes to mind--why are we wasting time here talking about kites? I have no doubt that the Google founders gave $10 million to this ill-conceived idea; these guys have money to blow. Sometimes a whacky idea does not mask a stroke of brilliance, but is instead just inane.

jim hillhouse | Oct 16, 2007 | 4:47PM

"this is an aviation hazard that the FAA will stop dead in its tracks"

If someone told you there would be 10,000 more airplanes in the air over the whole United States, as well as out over the Pacific within 10 or so miles of the coast, would you say this is going to get stopped by the FAA because of air hazards? Of course not, because just that has occurred in the last 20-30 years as air traffic has exploded. These kites are largely stationairy, and their positions will be known and they would be easily seen on radar. So essentially, they're even less of a threat to other aircraft as, well, other aircraft.

Just because an idea is wacky to us now doesn't mean that it's a bad idea. To someone 100 years ago, the idea of people piloting automobiles traveling at 70mph, through cities packed with people, would have seemed insane...just think of all of the people who would get hit and killed?!?!

Brian | Oct 16, 2007 | 5:15PM

Will not Google reap some of the profits if this concept works? Also you forget Microsoft spawned the Gates Foundation.

David Price | Oct 16, 2007 | 5:39PM

Here's why the big oil companies will fight anything that could decrease energy demands... a small decrease in demand would send their lucrative profits into the abyss...

Geo | Oct 16, 2007 | 8:29PM

Since the kites can sustain such huge weights, perhaps Google intends to send their data containers skyward?

NewJohnny | Oct 16, 2007 | 10:23PM

So where is all that money going. I say they need to privitize before more short cuts are made to a space program where short cuts are not an option. What are they thinking? Did they use to work for FEMA?

Ed | Oct 17, 2007 | 12:50AM

How many miles of tether / power cable do you need to run it at the necessary altitudes, and what will it weigh?

Aswan H. Dam | Oct 17, 2007 | 9:35AM

He said "perhaps" There are no one plans on sending containers miles above the earth on a cable, a ballon for space launch as you will see if you follow some of the links. But mixing up technologies gets everyone eventually away from the main point. It is like the joke when a person tells a story and then the next person changes it a little and by the end of the day it is a hole different story.

Ed | Oct 17, 2007 | 12:47PM

All that mile high cable launch stuff I think will slow down forward progress. That technology is years away. First you will have to create a no fly zone. Won't happen. You can't pull your cable trolley onto a US base because governments can't participate except for NASA's oversight and guidance. So testing cable launchers thinking it is the perfect recovery vehicle is far to dangerous. If that cable snaps any thing within a half mile could get taken out. The powered balloon is about the only vehicle that looks promising out side of a MiG-23 that can travel up to 60,000 or 70,000 feet. The object is to get a moon launch as far out "into sub space" as possible to save fuel and without the use of booster rockets. I will look forward to seeing the teams overall plan. Because there are going to be a lot of teams. Some using the same technology. But in the end it will benefit only the Google club. So I will most likely be content as a cheerleader.

Google Lunar X PRIZE entry from the United States will be required to get a launch license from the FAA.

Ed | Oct 17, 2007 | 6:12PM

There are hobbiest that have been working on space for some time. So are we trying to generate electricity 500 feet off the ground or go to the moon?,%20Jeffrey%20P.&oref=slogin

Ed | Oct 17, 2007 | 6:44PM

I'll dub it, Project Popsickle. But if they have had any government participation in development according to the rules, they can't compete in the contest.

Ed | Oct 17, 2007 | 7:20PM

Re: Clean energy.
Seems like if we cut loose from oil we only lower the world price of oil the the advantage of China, India, South America and the other places that don't have domestic sources. Lower the price and raise demand. Economics for dumbys. I am not sure that would lower the worlds carbon footprint.
What is needed is a low carbon, cheaper than oil, source of portable energy. That has its downsides too. Russia would lose its major source of income. Remember they have those big things that go boom in the night and ways of delivering them world wide. The mid east would also have some severe economic problems to go with the moslem/jew problems. Dammed if you do and dammed if you don't.
The moon project sounds like fun however.
How about a secret program to build an around the world free-kite flyer? Unless it was secret you would never get permission to fly it. Maybe there is a way to use wind shear to control the altitude and direction of the kite. I guess if it could fly above airline flight altitudes, like the free balloons, then maybe one could get permission to fly. MMMM? a maned free kite?
Have fun.

DILBERT DOGBERT | Oct 18, 2007 | 1:15PM

Dilbert, Im sure there are military jets that already fly above pasenger aircraft. The Concorde flew up there.

About the carbon footprint. I would really like to pe apart of a Wind Farm start-up. I saw a documentary on the windiest place I believe was in the uS. in Alaska where no one could live because the wind was a constant 100 MPH. I think there was just a observatory up there. That's where you open a wind farm! wow But as far as the carbon footprint making a difference. It would and does for those few Americans that have wind mills in their back yards and generate enough to sell some back to the electric company through the power grid. That is the key to reducing the footprint by 'Buying down you neighbors footprint' You are selling surplus electricity back so that is less energy the power company has to convert coal to power for you neighbor. So in essence the more you sell back that you don't use the more footprints outside your own you reduce in good faith. Remember if you sell your surplus back the power company burns 10 tons less coal or oil to make your neighbors electricity. The challenge is to build houses (combo or wind, solar, wood and grass furnace)that require no outside energy source, recharges the car and motorcycle, and generates enough electricity to sell about fifty bucks per month back to the power company the fifty bucks can be used to buy seeds to grow food :)

Ed | Oct 18, 2007 | 2:12PM

Just to be clear, launching a rocket from an airplane at 80,000 feet is actually not at all less environmentally damaging than launching a rocket from the ground. Basic physics dictate that the plane must use far more energy to life the payload to 80,000 than a rocket going straight up. This is because while you're busy climbing to 80,000 feet, you have to move forward by 800,000 feet. So more energy is spent moving the plane forward than moving the plane up. A rocket going straight up consumes the least amount of energy to lift a payload to 80,000 feet. Less energy means less fuel burned which means less net carbon emissions, which means less heat wasted, etc. So no. Launching payloads from planes is not the the answer. From a stationary balloon platform, maybe.

Michael Torrie | Oct 18, 2007 | 2:30PM

The cost was building and loosing booster rockets verses a reusable launch vehicles. Fuel was only half the issue. Carbon footprints are not an issue with space travel. At least not on the front burner. Because it's all experimental. Were as global warming is an real life non experimental issue that requires real life sollutions now not in 2020. So Space as far as I can see is not in the same category unless you want to spend a lot of time combining the two to make a point. If so lets here the solution, maybe what?

Ed | Oct 18, 2007 | 2:56PM

The Mona Lisa is a man, baby!

Ed | Oct 18, 2007 | 3:25PM

Despite the "fun" factor, it'd be refreshing to see the MiG-23 option rejected simply because of its energy waste & greenhouse gases impact. If you're planning for up to 20+ attempts, the jet's scrub/abort/recall option wouldn't seem to be quite so significant. Plus, if the launch vehicle weight grows significantly greater than hoped, couldn't you more readily compensate with more/larger balloons that by having to purchase a different airplane? I'd think that sort of flexibility would be far more valuable.

Flick | Oct 18, 2007 | 4:31PM

No, the launch vehicle payload is for a rover or rovers only. There are no other plans for larger payloads that I know of. The Prize is to put a functioning rover on the Moon and thats all. No point in planning for international trade in space if you don't win the prize. Loose the prize and you have a mig worth way more than you paid after improvements. Loose the prize using a balloon and you have a few balloon ropes and balast bags left over for old memories sake. If you get the balloon back you can always use it for a pool liner. But I understand what you are saying about the mig's use of fuel. Far less than NASA uses. But who knows by then the MiG might be using a mix of used veggie french fry oil and grain alcohol. (Look in my above post Oct.17 6:44pm)Or maybe Jeff Bezos secret rocket cool fuel. Really really cool fuel!

Ed | Oct 18, 2007 | 5:04PM

Also if balloon technology is going to be discussed someone else is going to have to do it. So far a couple people have mentioned it as a diclaimer but no dialog follows. I won't do leg work for an idea or technology I don't believe in. So cherry on!

Ed | Oct 18, 2007 | 6:14PM

I recall an excellent series of articles in The New Yorker some years back.

Story of the Aereon, a combination aerodyne / aerostat a.k.a. hybrid airship.

Great image at:

Rob Lake | Oct 20, 2007 | 3:02AM

Nice article, but the gratuitous shot at Microsoft at the end was unnecessary. I suggest you do some research on the work being done by the Gates Foundation:

Vince | Oct 23, 2007 | 8:41AM

The comparison of Google and Microsoft wasn't gratuitous.

The Gates Foundation isn't Microsoft, and Microsoft isn't the Gates Foundation.

So Google funds forward-looking projects and the Gates Foundation does also.

BillD | Oct 25, 2007 | 10:26AM