I recently read about Google exec Alan Eustace's record skydiving jump from a 'near space' altitude of 135,890 feet and was surprised to learn that the balloon which lofted him up to that height was made by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, in Hyderabad, India. I'd like to then ask whether India has any plans of its own to conduct a high-altitude manned balloon flight, perhaps to validate its own spacesuit designs which are under development. I know that a previous record-setting high-altitude balloon jump by Felix Baumgartner was said to have benefited spacesuit research. Are existing methods of spacesuit-testing cheaper, or would a high-altitude manned balloon flight actually allow for a cost savings, unorthodox though it might be? Also, what would be the approximate cost of such high-altitude balloon flights in USD (millions? tens of millions?) and could such activities ever become a viable area of space tourism?
When referring specifically to Felix Baumgartner's jump here are a few things taken from The Guardian's article Felix Baumgartner skydive: the key questions answered:
What was so special about the suit?
Baumgartner's suit and helmet were described by his team as "his personal life-support system". The suit was modelled on those worn by pilots of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, but it had never been tried in a free-fall before Baumgartner started testing it. It had four layers consisting of both "breathable" Gore-Tex, and heat- and flame-resistant Nomex. The internal layer was a "comfort liner". Next was a "gas membrane" that helped to retain air pressure. A "restraint layer" then helped to maintain the suit's shape. Finally, the external layer was constructed of Nomex to protect against fire and temperature extremes. It was made by a US company called David Clark that has been making suits for astronauts and high-altitude aviators since 1941.
How Much did it cost?
The non-reusable balloon used by Baumgartner cost $250,000, with the wider cost to the sponsor Red Bull of the whole record attempt estimated to have cost many millions of dollars. This will put off the vast majority of copycats, but the high-profile stunt is expected to provoke a surge in interest for parachuting.
Refer to the article for some more details about his jump.
So yes, long story short, this was pretty much a stunt and world record attempt so it was extremely expensive. However, there are definitely cheaper ways of testing suits such as one comment mentioned above... vacuum chambers, wind tunnels, and maybe even in use with jet pilots of high altitude.