Richard Branson and his team at Virgin Galactic have won most of the press about space tourism, but meanwhile a small company in Tucson, Ariz., is working on a different technology—touring space via balloon. In October, the commercial spaceflight company World View successfully completed a major milestone test flight. The company says it is on track to meet its 2017 goal for taking paying passengers to the edge of space.
During the flight, a balloon filled with helium carried a scaled-down, unmanned, replica space capsule to a height of 100,475 feet. At that height, passengers will be able to see the curvature of the earth and watch the sunrise against a black sky full of stars. After reaching its destination, the balloon was released from the space capsule, and the capsule returned safely to the surface under what the company calls a ParaWing, a unique parafoil that enables the craft to glide. Although this high-altitude ballooning technology has been around for decades, World View’s team of engineers has worked to develop the technology specifically for the capsule, with a focus on making the ride as gentle as possible and on achieving a pinpoint landing.
The company, led by CEO Jane Poynter and with former NASA Space Shuttle commander Mark Kelly as director of flight crew ops, says it has solved all the technical challenges and will move on to testing a full-scale system, perhaps as soon as next month. The final tourist capsule will feature Wi-Fi, a bar, and a lavatory to ensure passengers’ comfort as they spend about two hours climbing aloft and then float in space for one to two hours at 100,000 feet (almost 20 miles high).
Introductory price for the tours is set at $75,000 per person. (worldviewexperience.com)