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NASA, ESA, DLR, CNES all have stratospheric balloon programmes. Technically, they don't reach space, only the stratosphere. However, they're commonly used to test space equipment, and the view from a stratospheric balloon is almost like the view from space.

Do we consider stratospheric balloons (on Earth) to be on-topic?

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I'd say that they are on-topic as long as it relates to space exploration. If it's about weather, no. If it's about testing space equipment, sure!

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  • $\begingroup$ I have to agree with this, so long as it is aiding the exploration of space i see no reason to reject it! Heck you could ask questions about an underground bunker to simulate the heat and pressure of other planets provided it was related to testing and prototyping the equipment used to explore space. If such a thing existed that is, speculation would still take it off topic $\endgroup$ – RhysW Jul 17 '13 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ Although, I wouldn't reject generic stratospheric balloon questions - ones that concentrate more on balloon as a vessel than on its payload and purpose. While these don't relate to space exploration directly, the answers may be useful to people who would wish to use the balloons for space exploration. Similarly, amateur rocketry should be welcome. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jul 18 '13 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @SF. If the question is about the use of balloons for space exploration, then it's fine. By amateur rocketry, what do you mean? $\endgroup$ – Undo Jul 18 '13 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Undo: Construction of rockets as a hobby. Some of them don't differ much from fireworks performance-wise, but some amateur rockets can reach suborbital space and return breath-taking photos of Earth. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jul 18 '13 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I agree that that's necessarily space exploration, though. $\endgroup$ – Undo Jul 18 '13 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Undo: Exploration is not only "manned exploration" or "doing science". It's also simply getting beyond the atmosphere and seeing it on your own, even if by proxy of your camera; Unmanned Suborbital Space Flight. And if you discuss a trade, you should be able to discuss tools of the trade, including amateur tools, and if they can't be bought off-the-shelf, making of them too. This all may not seem as exciting as what the Big Boys like NASA or ESA do, but it is space exploration as done and reachable by enthusiasts and amateurs. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jul 18 '13 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ OK, you've convinced me. $\endgroup$ – Undo Jul 18 '13 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ I concur with this answer. $\endgroup$ – user39 Jul 19 '13 at 7:26
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I think that it should be on-topic as long as the questions are about the space-related research that happens on those balloons, not about the operation of the balloon itself, or about its weather-related applications.

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I would basically agree with Undo and Gwenn. But keep in mind that stratospheric balloons are traditionally handled together with space exploration. They share similar technological problems, such as low pressure, radiation etc, so even if a balloon mission is intended for atmospheric research, from a design perspective, it is in fact a space mission (without rocket). This is also reflected by balloon activities presented at virtually every space conference and publication that I know of or have seen.

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    $\begingroup$ Even more so if the balloon is being deployed on a planet other than earth $\endgroup$ – RhysW Jul 17 '13 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ +1 And to add to it, weather itself is a darn important factor with launches and landings (and possibly other preparations, or even communications while the mission is in progress), and that goes for any planet with an atmosphere, not just the Earth. The double lightning bolt that hit the Apollo 12, countless missions postponed due to meteorological phenomena, cold weather prior to the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger,... That's all weather, and even if stratospheric balloons measured weather only, if it's to do with any space mission for whatever reasons, I say it's on-topic. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Jul 19 '13 at 22:58
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How about we use the 100K convention for space? Below, isn't. Above, is.

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    $\begingroup$ because things happening below 100k can still be related to space exploration. e.g the satelite recievers are below 100k, but they play one of the most vital roles in space exploration, actually recieving the data! $\endgroup$ – RhysW Jul 17 '13 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @RhysW Good point. How about 100K, unless it has a specific space relevance? I.e. 100K is benchmark, accepting exceptions. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Jul 17 '13 at 16:24

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