Startup World View Enterprises Inc. envisions a commercial high-altitude balloon experience for luxury-minded passengers and scientific researchers that will strive to deliver many of the prolonged experiences of spaceflight without the confinement, cost, risks or health limitations associated with rocket launches.
The Tucson, Ariz.-based company is looking toward late 2016 to inaugurate commercial flights, potentially from Spaceport America in New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic expects to begin launching suborbital passenger missions aboard the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo as soon as next year.
World View’s helium balloon would float to 30 km (98,425 ft./18.6 mi.) over a span of 90 min. to 2 hr. on a typical flight, hoisting a comfortably appointed eight-passenger gondola outfitted with a bar, food service and electronic connectivity suspended below. The gondola, pressurized to one atmosphere throughout the flight, would loiter for 2 to 6 hr. at peak altitude to afford views of the Earth, the arc of the horizon and the blackness of space for the adventure-minded passenger or access to the stratosphere for scientists investigating high-altitude medical issues or meteoritics, among other fields of inquiry.
A typical flight would descend within 20 to 40 min. with the aid of a large, navigable para wing, affording a few seconds of weightlessness for passengers, according to a mission profile still in development.
The ticket price is $75,000.
“We want to give people that experience of seeing the Earth from space for hours at a time and being able to contemplate the curvature of the Earth and all that comes with that experience,” said Jane Poynter, World View CEO. “By all accounts, it’s just magical. We believe it can be a really transformative.”
“Think of this as super first class, a high-end luxury experience,” added Taber MacCallum, World View’s chief technology officer. “Luxury branding spaceflight is really what we are doing.”
World View was awaiting confirmation from FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation that its balloon operations will fall under the agency’s Chapter 509 jurisdiction on grounds the crew compartment, life support systems and other hardware will be developed and operated as though they were in space, said Poynter and MacCallum, who outlined World View’s business strategy in an Oct. 21 telephone interview.
Though well below the 100 km Karman demarcation recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, or International Air Sports Federation, of Lausanne, Switzerland, as the boundary between the atmosphere and space, 30 km altitude still carries all the human hazards of space exposure, including fatal decompression.
Tucson-based Paragon Space Development Corp., the developers of spaceflight life support and thermal control systems, is serving as World View’s flight systems prime contractor and technical partner. Poynter and MacCallum were among Paragon’s founders in 1993 before spinning off the balloon venture.