Space balloon flights move step closer

The world’s first commercial balloon flights to the edge of space have moved a step closer, after the company planning the venture conducted a record-breaking test.

WorldView has successfully flown its test balloon to an altitude of 31.1km – the upper limit of Earth’s stratosphere. The company said the achievement moves it “one step closer to launching manned voyages”, including tourist flights.

“The accomplishments of this flight further our two main objectives of manned spaceflight and advancing research,” said Taber MacCallum, World View’s chief technology officer.

The WorldView capsule can accommodate six passengers
The WorldView capsule can accommodate six passengers

“The successful flight of the parafoil at this altitude brings us closer to flying private citizens safely to the edge of space and also allows us to continue our research and education program by providing safe access to the near-space environment,” he added.

WorldView said reaching the altitude of just over 31km signifies a “major milestone” for the project, as this is the same altitude at which future manned flights will transition to the parafoil – the instrument responsible for easing passengers back down to Earth.

The WorldView experience will lift passengers to an altitude of more than 30km in approximately two hours, in a capsule attached to a helium-filled balloon. From this height, passengers will be able to look down on the planet though large windows.  The capsule will be able to carry six passengers and two crew members, and will even include a toilet and “refreshment bar”.

WorldView is offering an “early bird” price of US$75,000 per person for its space balloon flights.

“It is our goal to open a whole new realm for exercising human curiosity, scientific research and education. We look forward to sharing this breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience with people from around the world,” said Jane Poynter CEO of World View.

By contrast, Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking parachute jump was taken from an altitude of 39km, while space tourism company Virgin Galactic is aiming to carry passengers 100km above the Earth’s surface.

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