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High Altitude

The airlock of the International Space Station (ISS) was turned into a laboratory last week. In a station with as much space as a 747, that may seem a bit odd, but its purpose was part of a study of the lungs of space travelers by monitoring the effects of one the astronauts' most surprising hazards: dust. Read More
Raymond's California-based company Solar Flight has released details of its fourth solar-powered aircraft, the Sunstar. The airplane has been designed for unmanned flight, though a human pilot version is also an option, and is reported to have more performance potential than any other projects currently under development, with greater flight speeds in a turbulence-tolerant design. Read More
Google exec, Alan Eustace, has broken the 128,100-ft (39,045-m) high-altitude skydive record set by Felix Baumgartner in October, 2012 (with much less fanfare). Jumping from a balloon at 135,890 ft (41,419 m) above Roswell, New Mexico, Eustace also set new world records for vertical speed and freefall distance. Read More
The solar-powered, high-altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV previously known as the Qinetiq Zephyr, which is now part of the Airbus High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) programme and called the Airbus Zephyr, has continued its record-breaking ways in its first civil flight in the skies over Dubai earlier this month. Read More
In an ambitious attempt to break every wing-borne sustained flight height record for a manned aircraft, the Perlan ll project intends to construct and fly a glider higher than any sailplane has gone before. Riding on the colossal stratospheric air waves generated over mountains, the team plans to fly their craft to more than 90,000 ft (27,000 m), which will shatter their own existing glider altitude record of 50,671 ft (15,400 m) set by Perlan l in 2008. Read More
Headaches, nausea, weakness and dizziness, combined with a feeling that you just can’t get enough oxygen with each breath are just some of the signs of altitude sickness. Researchers have now found a link between the abnormal breathing patterns experienced while sleeping at altitude and the symptoms of altitude sickness, particularly headaches. The finding suggests that finding a way to breath normally while sleeping could provide a way to combat such symptoms. Read More
Satellites may be very useful for communications, navigation and other applications, but they're awfully expensive to build and launch, and once they're in orbit ... well, there's no reusing them. That's why a consortium led by Thales Alenia Space is developing the StratoBus. It's a planned autonomous airship that can be launched like a regular blimp, but that will be able to hover at an altitude of 20 km (12 miles) – that's up in the stratosphere, hence the name. Read More
Harvesting power from the wind and the sun is nothing new. We've seen flying wind turbines and solar power plants that aim to provide clean renewable energy. UK-based New Wave Energy has a bolder idea in the works. The company plans to build the first high altitude aerial power plant, using networks of unmanned drones that can harvest energy from multiple sources and transmit it wirelessly to receiving stations on the ground. Read More
The newest entry in the fledgling space (or near-space) tourism sector will see passengers take a balloon ride to an altitude of 30 km (18.6 mi) from where they will be treated to a spectacular view of the Earth. World View Enterprises has now obtained US Federal Aviation Administration approval for its proposed balloon experiences, which will cost US$75k, and are projected to begin in 2016. Read More
About once a month on average, an incident is reported in which turbofan jet engines flying at high-altitude lose power. The pilots report that there is little if any bad weather that might explain the power loss and although uncommon, this fault is potentially disastrous. The culprit is called ice crystal icing, and NASA scientists are making progress in understanding the problem using a world first test facility that creates an artificial ice cloud similar to that encountered by planes at high altitudes. Read More