FAQ - High Altitude Weather Balloon

  • How high will my high altitude weather balloon balloon go?

    The highest recorded gas filled balloon reached 173,000 ft (53 km), launched in 2002 from Japan! However, this was not a normal weather balloon, but a specially designed balloon with a material which is 1/6 the thickness of a plastic grocery bag.  The highest recorded weather balloon flight of one of StratoStar's customers is 125,200 ft (38 km) launched by DePauw University launch August 11, 2011 from Illinois. Average weather balloon flights reach 60,000 to 105,000 ft.  Watch this video of a weather balloon which reached 110,000 ft over Wyoming launched by a StratoStar Customer.

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  • How big are high altitude weather balloons?

    When a balloon is filled on the ground with lift gas (helium or hydrogen), it can range in size from 2.5 ft  to 8 ft  in diameter.  During the balloon's flight it will grow more than 4 times the diameter and upto 83 times the volume measured at launch, until it can't strech any more and will burst!  A high-altitude weather balloon filled with 268 cu/ft of helium will have a diameter of about 8 ft at sea level, but as the balloon climbs through the atmosphere it will expand to 35ft in diameter and will have a volume of 22,449 cu/ft before it pops.  Watch this video to learn how to properly fill a high-altitude weather balloon.

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  • How far will a high altitude weather balloon travel in flight?

    There are tons of variables at play with every flight: What time of year is it? How fast will the balloon ascend? How high will it go? How long will it take it to fall? With atmospheric winds reaching speeds of up to 200 mph (320 kmh) in the winter, we typically estimate anywhere from 35-75 miles (or more!) of horizontal travel for winter flights, and 1-35 miles for summer flights. A big part of StratoStar training for new customers involves learning how to better predict and control the distance a flight will travel from the point of launch. Watch this video to learn about one of the biggest mistakes people make when launching high-altitude weather balloons.

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  • How hard is it start and run a weather balloon program at a school or STEM Club?

    StratoStar takes all of the guesswork out of exploring the edge of space with a wide range of customizable products, hands-on training, and personal support. We've designed the entire company around our passion for unlocking student curiosity, and it's of the utmost importance to us that educators can focus on their students while we handle the supplies, hardware, and software needed to conduct a successful launch. With our years if experience of flying hardware in the upper atmosphere, we're prepared to make starting your own STEM projects in near space as simple and stress-free as possible. StratoStar works with students and educators from K-12 through Colleges and Universities. Watch this testimonial video from Dr. Glen Kissel about conducting missions to the Edge of Space with his students at University of Southern Indiana.

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  • How long do high altitude weather balloons stay in flight?

    The average balloon will ascend for about 90 minutes before bursting. After the ascent is complete, the payload boxes and flight equipment will slowly fall on a parachute for around 30 minutes, giving the average flight a total duration of two hours. This time can vary widely depending on your balloon, the amount of lift gas used, and how much weight you're lifting. It might sound like there's a lot to consider here (and there is!), but don't worry - StratoStar always works closely with new customers to help them navigate this tricky part of the mission plan.

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  • How much weight can I fly on a high altitude weather balloon?

    In the United States, regulations permit flights carrying up to 12 lbs (5.4 kg) total payload, not including the weight of the balloon itself. This weight must be divided into separate payload packages no more than 6 lb (2.7 kg) in weight. Since payload can experience violent turbulence in the jet stream, StratoStar has designed lightweight, rugged payload packages that resist damage and ensure the safe return of any equipment used in a flight.

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  • Do I need a license to launch a near space balloon?

    No license is required to launch a balloon in the United States. However, it is critically important that anyone planning a flight takes time to receive proper safety training. StratoStar has years of experience launching and recovering flight gear all over the country, and we personally train each of our customers in the safety and best practices of conducting a mission to the edge of space while meeting government guidelines for high-altitude weather balloon operations.

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  • What are the government guidelines for high altitude weather balloons?

    In the United States, there are two sets of regulations governing launching and tracking high-altitude weather balloons. One is from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the other is from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  All of StratoStar's products are designed to meet the United States Regulations, and we explore these regulations in detail during training. Here's a quick summary of each regulation that applies to our flights:

    1. Cell Phones are not permitted to track high-altitude weather balloons in flight.

    2. Payloads cannot exceed a package weight/size ratio of three ounces per square inch. *

    3. No payload package can exceed 6 lb in weight.

    4. Entire weight of all payloads cannot exceed 12 lb in total weight (Excludes weight of balloon).

    5. No rope or cable should be used which requires more than 50lb of force to separate payload packages from balloon.

    6. No one may launch a high-altitude weather balloon which creates a hazard to other people and property. (i.e. Incorrect parachute, faulty rigging, inappropriate launch location)

    7. No one may use a high-altitude weather balloon to drop objects (i.e. gliders and projectiles).

    * Determined by dividing total package weight by the area in square inches of the smallest surface.

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  • Can I purchase StratoStar products outside the United States?

    Unfortunately, we are only working with customers in the United States at this time. The wireless radio system we developed for data collection and tracking is only licensed for use within the United States.  However we encourage you to watch our instrucational videos so you can learn more about launching high-altitude weather balloons.

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  • Can I track a high altitude weather balloon balloon with a cell phone?

    The short answer is No and you don't want to.  In the United States it is illegal to use a cell phone or devices which use cell phone transmitters to track high-altitude weather balloons in flight according to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Regulation 22.295.  Besides being illegal to track with a cell phone, it does not work well because the cell tower antennas are pointed slightly down providing little if any coverage in the sky and most of the remote areas high-altitude weather balloon payloads land have little or no cell tower coverage.  Watch this video of Purdue University students using StratoStar's real-time high speed tracking system designed for high-altitude weather balloon missions (Tracking shown 2:20 minutes into video). 

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  • How much does a weather balloon launch cost?

    After purchasing your StratoStar High-Altitude Weather Balloon System the average cost of a high-altitude weather balloon launch is $200-$400. This will cover disposable supplies (the balloon, helium or hydrogen to be used as lift gas, tape, rigging, payload boxes, and zip-ties) and incidentals such as fuel for the chase vehicle tasked with tracking down and recovering the flight equipment. Depending on the altitude you would like to achieve, you may find yourself spending a little more or less on balloons of various sizes and different amounts of lift gas. Additionally, StratoStar has designed its flight kits to help reduce cost per launch by utilizing rechargeable batteries and quality materials that won't be destroyed after just one flight.

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What Professors Are Saying

Its exciting for the students because it has both an air and near space component to it and you have to work of a geographical area, you are not confined to a lab or classroom.

Dr. Glen Kissel
University of Southern Indiana


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