Commercial spaceflight company World View came a step closer to carrying tourists to the edge of space with a successful test flight last weekend. At Page, Arizona, a one-tenth scale replica spacecraft was carried by high-altitude ballon to a height of 100,475 ft (30,624 m) to demonstrate the technology that is intended for use in a full-size version slated to begin commercial flights next year.
Developed by World View in collaboration with United Parachute Technologies and precision aerial delivery company MMIST, the Voyager spacecraft is designed to carry six tourists at US$75,000 a head, plus flight crew, on a six-hour journey with one to two hours at a peak altitude of 100,000 ft (30,000 m). This is an altitude of 19 mi (30 km), which is not even close to the 62-mi (100-km) altitude recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) as the official edge of space, but is still plenty high enough to see the curvature of the Earth.
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Voyager consists of a helium balloon that expands to about 14 million ft³ (400,000 m³), or the size of a football stadium, when it rises to maximum altitude and fully inflates. Suspended beneath this is a pressurized gondola that's large enough to walk around in and is decked out with amenities like Wi-Fi, bar, and a lavatory. At the end of its flight, the gondola makes its final descent by detaching from the balloon and a parafoil allows the pilot to glide the craft to the recovery area for a precision landing.
According to World View, the recent sub-scale test was intended to test a number of technologies related to high-altitude parafoil flight and full flight operations as a prelude to full-scale tests. Specifically, the flight was to demonstrate the feasibility and practicality of the craft's design in three key areas: launch procedures that will allow the craft to be sent aloft routinely and gently, the ability to transition from balloon to parafoil, and control systems are able to ensure a smooth, accurate landing.
The company says that full scale tests will be conducted in the next few months involving a flight vehicle with the same mass and aerodynamics as the World View Voyager spacecraft.
"While each individual system has been analyzed and extensively tested in previous test flights, this significant milestone allowed us to test and prove all critical flight systems at once," says Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Taber MacCallum. "Now we’re ready for the next major phase of development – full scale system testing."
The video below shows the test flight.
Source: World View