Arizona-based World View Enterprises has successfully completed its first test flight of a space tourism balloon that, for the price of US$75,000 per person, will lift six passengers into the stratosphere to an altitude of 20 miles (32 km). From there, they will be able to see the curvature of the Earth. The company says it is on track to fly its first passenger in just two years time.

It was only last year that World View Enterprises obtained FAA approval for its audacious five-hour flight plan. And although the balloon won't technically lift its passengers into outer space (defined as a distance of 100 km, or 62 miles, from the Earth's surface), it will certainly make for an unforgettable experience. It will also be offered at a fraction of the price for Virgin Galactic's $200,000 rocket-propelled trip.

A capsule large enough for passengers to walk around in will be lifted well above the troposphere thanks to a giant balloon containing 400,000 cubic meters of helium, similar to the one used by daredevil Felix Baumgartner to break the record for high-altitude skydiving two years ago.

In order to return back to Earth, the balloon is cut away from the capsule, and then a parafoil will allow it to land safely as a paraglider, deploying skids on which to land.

The company launched the test flight last week from Roswell, New Mexico using a balloon which was about one third the size of that planned for passengers flight. It carried a payload of about 450 lb (204 kg), about one tenth of what the company expects to eventually lift into the stratosphere.

The flight was the first time all the components were tested all together, and in the process the company said it broke a world record of its own – for the highest parafoil flight, reaching an altitude of 120,000 ft (36,500 m).

In FAA filings, the company has said that it will launch from Spaceport American in New Mexico. However, CEO Jane Poynter has recently said that no final decision has actually been made in this regard.

Below is a promotional video from the company commenting on the successful test flight.

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