As the race for commercial rockets heats up to take over for NASA, another field of lift is also in the mix. High altitude balloons are making great strides as a cheaper alternative to taking lighter payloads into low earth orbit. JP Aerospace has become the first company to float an airship to near 100,000 feet with something that is powered and steerable, giving the project flexibility to provide launch platforms for smaller rockets, platforms for research, weather and data gathering missions as well as other applications like military reconnaissance. This gives us some pretty cool, cheaper options to get into space.
Airship Groomed For Flight To Edge of Space - MSNBC 5/21/04
(Tandem Airship - JP Aerospace)