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  • Olivier Manette

What's the point of flying high today?

Updated: Mar 15

Modern airplanes are designed to fly at high altitudes for several reasons. First, planes can save fuel by flying in thinner, less dense air, which reduces air resistance and improves engine efficiency. This helps reduce operating costs for airlines and improve profitability.

Additionally, planes that fly at high altitudes emit less CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere due to lower air density. This helps reduce the environmental impact of flights and improve airline brand image.

Additionally, planes that fly at high altitudes can avoid turbulence and adverse weather conditions that can slow flight at lower altitudes. This saves time and reduces the total flight duration, which is a practical benefit for passengers.

Finally, flying at high altitudes allows planes to reach distant destinations nonstop, which is important for long-haul flights. This allows airlines to offer direct flights to popular international destinations, providing a more convenient travel experience for passengers.

In sum, flying at high altitudes provides significant economic, environmental and practical benefits for airlines and passengers, making it an essential flight strategy for the modern airline industry.

One of the main advantages of flying at altitudes above 20 km is that it allows scientific observations and atmospheric studies to be carried out. Research aircraft such as weather balloons and high-altitude aircraft can reach altitudes of 20 to 30 km to carry out scientific measurements, particularly in climatology and meteorology.

In addition, flying at such altitudes can make it possible to study the impact of cosmic radiation and cosmic rays on aircraft electronic equipment, which is important for aviation safety and for space missions.

Finally, hypersonic aircraft that can reach speeds above Mach 5 can reach much higher altitudes, up to more than 100 km, to perform long-range reconnaissance and surveillance missions. However, the technologies needed to enable these flights still remain under development.

Atmospheric satellites

Atmospheric satellites, also called stratospheric balloons, have advantages over Earth-orbiting satellites in some specific areas:

  1. Cost: Atmospheric satellites are generally much cheaper to build and launch than Earth-orbiting satellites. They can also be reused multiple times, making them more cost-effective for short-term missions.

  2. Lifespan: Stratospheric balloons have a much longer lifespan than traditional balloons, being able to remain in flight for several months. This extended lifespan can be useful for long-term surveillance missions.

  3. Payload: Atmospheric satellites can carry a larger payload than traditional balloons, making them more useful for science and surveillance missions.

  4. Flexibility of use: Stratospheric balloons are very flexible and can be used for a wide variety of missions, including environmental monitoring, mapping, communications and scientific research.

  5. Low environmental impact: Stratospheric balloons do not need rockets to be launched and they are propelled by air. They therefore have a much lower environmental impact than satellites in Earth orbit.

In summary, the advantages of atmospheric satellites include lower cost, extended service life, increased payload capacity, high flexibility of use, and reduced environmental impact. These advantages make them attractive choices for certain specific missions, including environmental monitoring and scientific research.

Atmospheric satellites have a wide variety of potential applications, including:

  1. Environmental monitoring: Stratospheric balloons can be equipped with sensors to measure air quality, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other important environmental factors.

  2. Natural disaster monitoring: Stratospheric balloons can be used to monitor hurricanes, typhoons, floods, wildfires and other natural disasters. They can help predict and monitor dangerous weather events and warn local populations.

  3. Mapping: Stratospheric balloons can be used to map geographic areas, including monitoring areas of deforestation, melting polar ice and changing landscapes.

  4. Communications: Stratospheric balloons can be used to provide telecommunications services in rural or remote areas where communications infrastructure is insufficient or inaccessible.

  5. Scientific research: Stratospheric balloons can be used for astronomy research, studying the Earth's atmosphere, the Northern Lights and other natural phenomena.

  6. Defense and security: Stratospheric balloons can be used to monitor borders, detect terrorist activities and support military operations.

In summary, stratospheric balloons can be used in a wide variety of fields, including environmental monitoring, mapping, communications, scientific research, defense and security. These applications depend on the specific capabilities of stratospheric balloons, such as their payload capacity, extended service life, and flexibility of use.

To address some of the drawbacks of atmospheric satellites, here are some suggestions:

  1. Increase lifespan: Scientists are currently working on stronger materials and more efficient propulsion technologies to extend the lifespan of atmospheric balloons.

  2. Improve weather resistance: Atmospheric balloons could be designed to be more weather resistant by using stronger materials and equipping them with more sophisticated control systems.

  3. Make recovery easier: Atmospheric balloons could be equipped with more advanced recovery systems to make them easier to recover once their mission is complete.

  4. Increase payload capacity: Atmospheric balloons could be equipped with more efficient propulsion systems to increase their payload capacity.

  5. Strengthen IT security: Atmospheric balloons could be equipped with advanced IT security systems to protect them against cyberattacks and technological failures.

  6. Develop more advanced control technologies: More sophisticated control systems could be developed to allow better navigation and control of atmospheric balloons.

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