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

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June 25, 2014

An Arizona-based company is planning to offer commercial subspace balloon flights by 2016 ...

An Arizona-based company is planning to offer commercial subspace balloon flights by 2016 (Image: World View Enterprises)

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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: W...

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)

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

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion.   All articles by Dario Borghino
14 Comments

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.

Freederick
25th June, 2014 @ 04:23 pm PDT

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?

David Whyte
25th June, 2014 @ 08:35 pm PDT

If I wanted to do the balloon thing I would make my own.

Slowburn
25th June, 2014 @ 10:14 pm PDT

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.

UltraBadger
26th June, 2014 @ 12:53 am PDT

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.

JPAR
26th June, 2014 @ 01:57 am PDT

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.

Enlightened Wookie
26th June, 2014 @ 07:26 am PDT

@ 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.

Mel Tisdale
26th June, 2014 @ 07:53 am PDT

@ 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.

Slowburn
26th June, 2014 @ 12:23 pm PDT

What happened to the balloon? Just more garbage in the ocean?

Badger Watkins
26th June, 2014 @ 06:27 pm PDT

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.

Daishi
26th June, 2014 @ 10:47 pm PDT

@ Daishi

There is enough helium in the atmosphere at ground level to harvest commercially except it is significantly cheaper to extract helium from natural gas.

Slowburn
27th June, 2014 @ 01:44 am PDT

Idiotic and reckless waste of precious resources for the amusement (just, ywan) of millionaires. I hope this idea fails, badly, and fast.

christopher
27th June, 2014 @ 06:06 am PDT

@ christopher

And all the poor people that have jobs because of this rich mans toy loses them but that is OK because the producers must be punished.

Slowburn
27th June, 2014 @ 10:40 pm PDT

Good observation, Badger Watkins. WTF HAPPENS TO THE GIANT BALLOON? How irresponsible if they just release it!

A stratospheric airship would be highly maneuverable. To avoid using govt. controlled, expensive helium, a "balloon in a balloon" would work. Fill the inner balloon with hydrogen, and the slightly larger outer all-encasing balloon with the inert gas nitrogen!

Just look at all of the designs for highly maneuverable stratospheric airships! http://tinyurl.com/o5guewp Now, just lose the helium and embrace the hydrogen, encased in a nitrogen blanket!

Darin Selby
30th June, 2014 @ 06:50 pm PDT
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