Trial balloons

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Science  23 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6344, pp. 1227-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6344.1227

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Stratospheric balloons are a low-cost way to get above 99% of the atmosphere. Payloads lifted that high have wide views of Earth and clear views of the stars. For decades, NASA has launched a handful of stratospheric balloons every year. Although they float for months, they drift at constant altitudes. Now, upstart commercial companies like World View are launching smaller balloons that can remain in place by surfing stratospheric winds. Just as companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are building cheap rockets in an effort to commercialize low-Earth orbit, so, too, are these balloon companies attempting to privatize the stratosphere. Scientists are eager to reap the benefits.