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stratospheric aircraft; Aviation at the frontier of space

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In the past, if you wanted to explore the stratosphere, there was only one option: a balloon. Balloons can go up where there is very little oxygen. Engines and wings, which require air to function, are ineffective at that altitude. The problem in the past was to survive at those altitudes, and the efforts of many balloonists were unsuccessful.

In 1931, man finally reached the stratosphere and ballooning with the help of hydrogen balloons managed to reach a height of 15,800 meters. Two years later, Jeanette Picard became the first woman to reach the stratosphere at an altitude of 17,600 meters. From the 1950s, it was the turn of expensive government spy planes such as the U2, SR71 and recently the Arkio 170 drone.

Currently, the stratosphere is also home to weather balloons, hot air balloons, spy balloons, and advertising displays. A group of British students used weather balloons to lift a dish known as Cornish to an incredible height of 35,500 meters. The food returned to the ground while it was frozen.

Although the age of discovery is not over yet. In September 2018, the Windward Performance Perlan 2 research glider set a new altitude record of 23,500 meters. This glider flew at a higher altitude than any other glider and even broke the U-2 spy plane’s maximum altitude record.

The Zephyr, made by Britain’s Alto (recently spun off from Airbus), is one of a new breed of flying machines designed to reconquer the stratosphere. By combining the miniaturization of components and powerful computer models of the atmosphere, these planes allow humans to be almost permanently present at these heights for the first time.

Haps, also known as high-altitude pseudo-satellites, include aircraft such as solar gliders to solar-powered zeppelins. Their tasks include providing 4G or 5G phone coverage and internet service after a disaster, finding forest fires, and tracking the movement of enemy forces during wartime. They can do these things better, cheaper, faster and more flexibly than satellites.

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