They’ve been joined at World View by Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator for science, who serves as the company’s chief scientist, and Grant Anderson, Paragon’s chief engineer.
World View is deliberately looking beyond space enthusiasts and the aerospace industry for passengers, a direction that has earned the company financial backing from the VegasTechFund and Philippe Bourguignon, chair of Miraval, the luxury resorts group, and a former president of Euro Disney.
“There are some very significant things happening in the luxury market. Spending in that very large industry is moving from the purchase of luxury goods to the purchase of once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” Poynter said. “You can say we are part of that market trend. We have a very accessible kind of experience for people. It does not have the whole rocket ride, which I’m sure will be very exciting. But it’s a very different experience. It’s much more extreme, while we intend to be something that just about anyone can imagine themselves doing. We are finding it really broadens the market. We are discovering that people who want to do this are not first and foremost space enthusiasts.”
While World View has looked at Spaceport America as a base of operations, it has not made a final decision.
“There are a whole host of places we are looking at right now. The way this will probably work is we will end up with several launch sites,” Poynter said. “Our entire operation has been designed to be incredibly flexible. We will not need to have huge external facilities on the ground. We can pick up everything and move to where we need to be.”
Expect no more than 50 flights during the first year of operations, she said. Then expect World View to expand beyond the U.S.
World View’s operations depend on decades of weather and science balloon development and operations as the foundation for its 400,000-cubic meter, helium-filled polyethylene “launch vehicle.” Each static liftoff of the balloon will include deployment of a yet-to-be-sized, navigable para wing as a safety measure to ensure the gondola can be piloted back to Earth either by the two-person crew or remotely from a ground-based control center, Tabor said.
World View believes each mission eventually can be led by a single pilot.
Component testing is already under way. Subscale testing will continue through the second quarter of 2014, much of it in parallel with systems engineering evaluations to validate the flight profile. Much of that focus will be on the transitions from under balloon to under para wing flight regimes, Tabor said.
Assembly of the first full-scale systems should be under way in mid-2014, followed by full-scale component testing and construction of the first commercial flight balloon in 2015, Tabor said.