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Weather Balloon FAQs

> How high will my high altitude weather 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 from one of StratoStar's customers is 125,200 ft (38 km). The weather balloon was launched by DePauw University on on August 11, 2011 from Illinois. Average weather balloon flights reach 60,000 to 105,000 ft.  If you'd like to see more about our flights, check out our previous missions page.
> How big are high altitude weather balloons?
When a balloon is filled on the ground with a 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 up to 83 times the volume measured at launch, until it can't stretch any more and then it bursts! 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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 payloads 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.
> 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 critical 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.
> What are the government guidelines for high altitude weather balloons?
> Can I track a high altitude weather 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 downward, 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.

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.

StratoStar FAQs

> Does StratoStar work directly with hobbyists?
Our weather balloon programs were designed for schools and government institutions. We use weather balloons as a vehicle for supporting schools' STEM education initiatives. Unfortunately, we do not generally sell directly to hobbyists.
> What institutions has StratoStar worked with?
The list is actually pretty long at this point. Stratostar has worked with NASA, Depaul University, Purdue University, Taylor University, Omaha Public Schools, Ohio State University, St. Albans Schools, and many others!
> Does StratoStar offer only on-site training?
No. We have several packages that are designed to fit the majority of educational institutions. We also develop custom packages based on your needs.  Many of our projects are done on-site, but if you have a resident expert teacher, administrator, or professor, we can certainly take on an advisory role instead of on-site trainer. Our goal is your goal - a powerful educational opportunity that delivers maximum impact for your students.
> 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 instructional videos so you can learn more about launching high-altitude weather balloons.
> 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.

STEM Education FAQs

> What is STEM education?
"STEM" is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. It has taken on special emphasis in the U.S. as a result of test scores conducted internationally every three years showing a below average educational scores in math and science subjects.
> So many people are now involved in STEM initiatives, why?
There are a number of reasons STEM education has generated such interest in the U.S. For one, major corporations are concerned that there will most likely be a gap in the number of skilled STEM workers vs. their future needs. Technology, engineering, science, and math are all highly sought after skill sets. The corporations are investing billions into filling this gap. Educational institutions are at the forefront of correcting this gap and are working aggressively to find new ways to boost STEM understanding. Schools throughout the country have made significant strides in boosting project-based learning and STEM education initiatives. Governments at the Federal and State levels are also heavily involved and concerned about STEM education. Many of the most important innovations in the way of societal health, GDP, and defense rely on a strong STEM workforce capable of making strides in the future.
> How hard is it to 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 of 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.

Next Generation Science Standards FAQs

> What are the Next Generation Science Standards?
The Next Generation Science Standards are made up of three dimensions to learning science. The dimensions are designed to work in conjunction with each other to help students develop a cohesive understanding of science. In addition to helping students develop their understanding, the dimensions are also the standards themselves.
> What are the three dimensions of Next Generation Science Standards?
> What does Crosscutting Concepts mean?
In this dimension, students explore the connection across the four domains of science: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth & Space Science, and Engineering Design. By crosscutting these concepts, students develop a more coherent and scientific view of the world around them.
> What Does Science and Engineering Practices mean?
Every day, scientists investigate the natural world around them and engineers build and design systems. By adding this dimension to curriculums, students gain the cognitive, social, and physical practice experiences required in scientific and engineering fields.
> What does Disciplinary Core Ideas mean?
The Disciplinary Core Ideas are the ideas in science that have a more broad importance across multiple science and engineering disciplines. The disciplines are grouped into four areas: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering. As students progress from grade level to grade level, the disciplinary core ideas build on each other to deepen student understanding and build on skill levels.
> Does StratoStar follow the Next Generation Science Standards?
The standards were designed to develop and improve science education for all students. At StratoStar, we make sure these standards are included in all of our curriculum programs. By allowing students to design experiments, participate in high-altitude weather balloon launches, and track and analyze the results of the weather balloon launch, StratoStar is able to incorporate and develop these standards in curriculums.

The three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards include:

  • Crosscutting Concepts
  • Science and Engineering Practices
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas

 

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We look forward to speaking with you about bringing Stratostar STEM projects to your school or educational institution.

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ABOUT STRATOSTAR

StratoStar exists to empower educators and unlock student curiosity through project based learning ideas. Working with education institutions, we start High-Altitude Weather Balloon programs to cover all areas of STEM curriculum and allow students to complete a real world project.

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