Internet balloon to be tested in Harbor Beach

A drone start-up company called Stark Drones is interested in putting on an event in Harbor Beach that would test one of its internet balloons.

The Harbor Beach City Council approved the event at their meeting this week, scheduled for 3-5 pm on June 18 at Harbor Beach’s Lincoln Memorial Park. The event will be open to the public with the ability to bring potluck food options, with a prediction of at least 50 people.

Andrew Nassief, of Stark Drones, emailed the city of Harbor Beach with his request in mid-May.

“The only commercial thing about the event is the launch plus an info and coupon packet from Stark Drones,” Nassief wrote in his email to Harbor Beach. “We don’t have the intention of really making money from an event like this outside of what that demo may lead to, and don’t like charging for people to watch experiments we do.”

The telemetry test would involve a tethered internet balloon with a diameter of between 15 and 27 feet, though it could be larger. The helium used to fill it would come locally and the balloon will be deflated once the experiment is done.

Internet balloons would have equipment on them to bring internet access to rural areas that have gaps in internet coverage. Google’s parent company had tried testing this concept though a subsidiary over nine years, including in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in Kenya, before shutting it down in early 2021 reportedly due to commercial viability concerns.

Stark Drones is an avionics and research startup focusing on new moonshot technologies, working on underwater wireless networks, oceanic sensors, beach water testing solutions, and carbon capturing techniques.

The event is planned to follow proper safety protocols, with a designated area that attendees are not allowed to cross and only designated people will be allowed to help set it up. People who cause disturbances will be asked to leave.

Nassief noted there is a chance that the experiment could fail, but the event should still be safe as long as people keep a respectful distance or do not touch anything that is not theirs.

Nassief could not be reached for further information.

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