Space

Space tourism balloon aces first test, on track to begin operations in 2016

Space tourism balloon aces fir...
An Arizona-based company is planning to offer commercial subspace balloon flights by 2016 (Image: World View Enterprises)
An Arizona-based company is planning to offer commercial subspace balloon flights by 2016 (Image: World View Enterprises)
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World View Enterprises says its flight into the stratosphere will cost $75,000 per person, a fraction of Virgin Galactic's ticket price (Image: World View Enterprises)
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World View Enterprises says its flight into the stratosphere will cost $75,000 per person, a fraction of Virgin Galactic's ticket price (Image: World View Enterprises)
The capsule is large enough for the six passengers to walk around in, and includes a panoramic glass window (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The capsule is large enough for the six passengers to walk around in, and includes a panoramic glass window (Image: World View Enterprises)
Passengers will embark before dawn for a five-hour subspace flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Passengers will embark before dawn for a five-hour subspace flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
The capsule will take a couple of hours to lift up to a height of about 100,000 ft (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The capsule will take a couple of hours to lift up to a height of about 100,000 ft (Image: World View Enterprises)
Artist's concept of the World View Enterprises balloon capsule in flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Artist's concept of the World View Enterprises balloon capsule in flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
To get back to Earth, the balloon will be cut out (Image: World View Enterprises)
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To get back to Earth, the balloon will be cut out (Image: World View Enterprises)
After the balloon is cut out, the passengers will briefly experience a moment of weightlessness (Image: World View Enterprises)
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After the balloon is cut out, the passengers will briefly experience a moment of weightlessness (Image: World View Enterprises)
The capsule will paraglide back to Earth (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The capsule will paraglide back to Earth (Image: World View Enterprises)
The flight plan (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The flight plan (Image: World View Enterprises)
The company's first test has been successful (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The company's first test has been successful (Image: World View Enterprises)
Artist's rendering of the capsule as it lands on its landing gear (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Artist's rendering of the capsule as it lands on its landing gear (Image: World View Enterprises)
Artist's rendering of the capsule deploying its landing gear (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Artist's rendering of the capsule deploying its landing gear (Image: World View Enterprises)
The commercial flights will likely take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The commercial flights will likely take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico (Image: World View Enterprises)
Artist's rendering of the view from the panoramic glass (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Artist's rendering of the view from the panoramic glass (Image: World View Enterprises)
Curvature of Earth and Sun from 120,000 ft (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Curvature of Earth and Sun from 120,000 ft (Image: World View Enterprises)
Voyagers will be afforded a spectacular view of the Earth suspended against the black, immensity of space (Image: World View Enterprises)
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Voyagers will be afforded a spectacular view of the Earth suspended against the black, immensity of space (Image: World View Enterprises)
The World View Enterprises parafoil flying at an altitude of 50,000 ft, breaking the world record for highest parafoil flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The World View Enterprises parafoil flying at an altitude of 50,000 ft, breaking the world record for highest parafoil flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
The World View Enterprises team fills the high-altitude balloon with lift gas prior to launch (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The World View Enterprises team fills the high-altitude balloon with lift gas prior to launch (Image: World View Enterprises)
The World View team prepares a 450-lb payload to be carried via high-altitude balloon to 120,000 ft during scaled test flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
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The World View team prepares a 450-lb payload to be carried via high-altitude balloon to 120,000 ft during scaled test flight (Image: World View Enterprises)
An Arizona-based company is planning to offer commercial subspace balloon flights by 2016 (Image: World View Enterprises)
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An Arizona-based company is planning to offer commercial subspace balloon flights by 2016 (Image: World View Enterprises)

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.

The commercial flights will likely take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico (Image: World View Enterprises)
The commercial flights will likely take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico (Image: World View Enterprises)

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).

The flight plan (Image: World View Enterprises)
The flight plan (Image: World View Enterprises)

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.

Source: World View Enterprises

World View Breaks World Record with Successful Test Flight

14 comments
Ralf Biernacki
It reaches about a third of the ceiling the Virgin Galactic trip is expected to reach, at a third the price; hardly an attractive proposition. A longer trip time (hours at altitude) could make it more interesting. Unfortunately, long trips are not likely to be offered, for the simple reason that this is a balloon: there is no control over the trajectory, and the operators wouldn't like it drifting over the ocean or over a border. So it's up to the stratosphere, have a look around, and back down you go. At $75K a pop, is it really worth it? With only one-third the way to actual space, not even a taste of freefall, and six passengers packed into that capsule, it has all the marks of Budget Tours Inc., except for the Premium price. Better wait until VG prices go down a bit, and spend your dough on a real space trip. Or take a trip on the Vomit Comet for $5K, and experience actual weightlessness.
David Whyte
Am I right in thinking that the planet has a limited amount of helium left,and we can't produce it? If so,then this is a colossal waste of that gas, and surely a different, re-usable, or easily made gas would serve better?
Slowburn
If I wanted to do the balloon thing I would make my own.
UltraBadger
Mr Whyte is totally correct, helium is a precious and finite resource that leaks away into space and cannot be reclaimed. This stupid project is an obscene waste of helium which could be stored for future use in medical applications, superconductivity and a myriad other valuable technologies.
JPAR
Commercially I can't see it working - if you have $70,000 to blow on a balloon ride, then chances are that you have sufficient money to blow $200,000 on a space ride with Branson. It's not exactly a price sensitive market at these prices..... $7,000 and perhaps it'd be a different issue.
Enlightened Wookie
fill that sucker with hydrogen. add a release nozzle on the underside of the cargo, a tank of compressed oxygen, and an ignition device. space elevator.
Mel Tisdale
@ David Whyte I couldn't agree more. Irresponsible behaviour in the extreme, at the extreme. If we just throw the stuff away on frivolous adventures like this, we will not be able to have MRI scanners, nor many other applications for which it is essential.
Slowburn
@ UltraBadger Helium is not by any reasonable measurement a finite resource. The reason that helium is refined from natural gas instead of being refined from the atmosphere is because the natural gas sourced helium is cheaper no that you can not produce helium on an industrial scale from the atmosphere at a workable cost. The FAA forbids using hydrogen for lift in manned vehicles. Asinine but what do you expect from a government agency.
Badger Watkins
What happened to the balloon? Just more garbage in the ocean?
Daishi
Helium remains in the earths atmosphere it's just at an altitude where its difficult to obtain. If we ever built a space elevator one of the things we might be able to use it for is to retrieve helium from the upper atmosphere.