World View space capsule
June 26, 2014

Space Balloon Reaches Altitude Of 120,000 Feet In Scale Test Flight

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

World View has successfully completed a scaled test flight of its helium balloon-based transportation system, setting a new world record for highest parafoil flight in the process, the commercial spaceflight firm announced on Tuesday.

The Arizona-based firm, which is an offshoot of Paragon Space Development Corporation, successfully used its spaceflight system to lift a one-tenth scale system to an altitude of 120,000 feet over New Mexico, said Irene Klotz of Discovery News. The module was then lowered back down to 50,000 feet, where it deployed an aerodynamic parafoil and landed safely, successfully testing several essential system components.

According to Reuters reporter Karen Brooks, the demonstration vehicle (which is known as the Tycho) launched from Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, New Mexico on the morning of June 18. During the five-hour test flight, World View was able to gauge the performance of the spaceflight system’s launch and ground operations, redundant landing system, parafoil aerodynamics and precision guided landing, she added.

“We couldn’t be any more excited about the results from this test flight,” World View co-founder and CEO Jane Poynter said in a statement. “It represents a foundational achievement that moves us one step closer to offering a lifechanging experience to our Voyagers.”

In an email to Discovery News, co-founder and chief technology officer Taber MacCallum said the company plans to review the data collected during the test flight. After making any necessary changes to the critical systems, they planned to conduct additional test flights. MacCallum told Klotz the company expects to conduct “both sub-scale unmanned systems and full-mass simulator test articles” before their first official launch.

World View first announced their plans to use a helium balloon to allow up to six passengers at a time to travel to heights of at least 100,000 feet last October. Once they reach the edge of space, the company would then allow customers to spend two hours admiring the view of Earth before the main capsule would be disconnected from the balloon, starting a free-fall that will eventually be slowed by a parafoil hooked to the top of the capsule.

Unlike more expensive space tourism services, the World View experience would not allow passengers to experience the feeling of weightlessness of a micro-gravity environment – the view is being pitched as the key attraction of the journey. Of course, the cost is also a fraction of other services: just $75,000 per person, compared to roughly a quarter of a million dollars for packages from companies using traditional space-faring vehicles.

“Launching in 2016, World View will have Voyagers floating peacefully to the edge of space for a two-hour sailing-like experience within a luxuriously engineered pressurized capsule transported by a parafoil and high-altitude balloon,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.

“Guests will enjoy 360-degree vistas of the world’s most spectacular panorama, marveling at the beauty of the Earth below, watching the sun slowly rise above the curvature of our planet suspended in a vast, black and infinite universe,” it added. “In addition to offering breathtaking experiences for Voyagers, the capabilities being developed by World View will offer unprecedented and affordable access to the near-space environment for educators, researchers, private companies and government agencies alike.”

World View is still developing its Voyager vehicle, Brooks said, and the company is being required to adhere to the same US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements as manned spacecraft that enter orbit around the Earth. It will be propelled by a 40 million cubic-foot helium balloon, as well as the steerable parafoil.

FOR THE KINDLE - The History of Space Exploration: redOrbit Press