Alphabet Swaps Project Loon Leaders After Six-Month Stint for Latest CEO

Tom Moore, a satellite veteran recruited in August, is being replaced by Alastair Westgarth

Visitors stand next to a high altitude WiFi internet hub, a Google Project Loon balloon.

Photographer: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Tom Moore, a satellite veteran brought in to lead Google's Project Loon unit, has stepped down after about six months. Alastair Westgarth, who headed wireless antenna company Quintel, is taking the spot.

The transition comes after the company scaled back an ambitious attempt to build a global communications service by circling the earth with high-altitude balloons. X, the research division of Google parent Alphabet Inc., recruited Moore in August after the unit's earlier leader, Mike Cassidy, stepped down. Moore started in mid-September. 

"Alastair’s vision for Project Loon aligns with X’s philosophy of approaching huge problems, at scale, to improve the lives of millions or billions of people," a spokeswoman for X said. Moore will stay on at X in an advisory role for the next few months, she added.

At the time, Moore's hiring was positioned as a key part of turning Loon into a proper business. Giving Google's experimental projects more independence and paths to revenue was a key rationale behind the creation of Alphabet in 2015. "Tom’s valuable industry experience will help launch us into the commercial stage," Astro Teller, the head of X, said when Moore joined. 

Unlike Cassidy, who primarily worked as an internet entrepreneur before running Loon, Moore had specific industry expertise. He created a satellite-based broadband service provider called WildBlue Communications Inc., which was acquired by satellite company ViaSat Inc., where Moore served as senior vice president.

Over the past year, a string of executives have departed Alphabet's divisions outside the main Google internet business. Those who have left include Tony Fadell, who ran Nest, and Craig Barratt, who ran Access, the division that oversaw Google Fiber. Moore declined to comment through an X spokeswoman.

X began testing Loon balloons in 2013, working with wireless operators like Vodafone in New Zealand and Telefonica SA in South America. Loon announced partnerships with three Indonesian carriers in late 2015, but has not updated the status of those deals.

Last month, X invited reporters to its headquarters to unveil changes at Loon. Its engineers had deployed machine learning to improve flight patterns for the balloons, limiting the numbers needed to provide internet coverage. Originally, the project was conceived to create a global network. The new technology meant Loon could launch a small number of balloons over particular regions, accelerating the project’s path to becoming an actual commercial operation, executives said.

Moore did not attend the session. Teller told reporters that Moore was traveling. 

Westgarth has experience building early-stage startups into commercial businesses, and has held executive positions at Airspan Networks Inc., InnerWireless Inc., Navini Networks Inc. and Tango Networks Inc.

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