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Space Travel…by Balloon?

25 Jun 2014, 4:37 pm

Photo Credit: World View

For the last few decades, space travel has been wholly-owned by various government agencies. But, in recent years private companies — like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic — have been taking the lead on developing the next generation of space exploration, including space tourism.

Be that as it may, it’s still pretty expensive to be strapped to rocket and be propelled into space. The Russians have been ferrying “space tourists” up to the International Space Station for more than ten years and at $20 to $40 million a trip, that’s way out of reach for most people.

But one Arizona-based company is hoping to make the space experience a bit more affordable. If you have $75,000 to spare and nerves of steel titanium, space travel company “World View” might have a high-flying seat for you sometime in 2016.

Simplistically, it’s a huge balloon, a parafoil (kind of like a parachute) and a capsule to hoist people skyward. In a June 18 test flight, a scaled-down version of the system was successfully launched from the New Mexico desert, lifting a 450-pound payload more than 120,000 feet. Just for a bit of perspective, commercial airliners fly at 35,000 feet and Mount Everest — the tallest mountain in the world — is more than 29,000 feet tall.

Photo Credit: World View,  J. Martin Harris Photography
Photo Credit: World View, J. Martin Harris Photography

At the apex of the flight, cameras on the prototype vehicle — named Tycho — took stunning pictures from the upper reaches of the stratosphere; showing the curvature of the Earth, the light blue glow of the atmosphere and the stark darkness of space.

Photo Courtesy: World View
Photo Credit: World View

Upon reaching 23 miles above the Earth, the entire system began it’s decent. And according to a press release from the company, the airfoil deployed at 50,000 feet, setting a record for the highest altitude an airfoil has ever been used.

Photo Credit: World View
Photo Credit: World View reports the test flight was launched from the Roswell International Air Center in southern New Mexico and lasted a total of five hours.

World View CEO Jane Poynter said of the test flight, “We couldn’t be any more excited about the results from this test flight.”

And even though flights aren’t likely to begin until 2016, Taber MacCallum, Chief Technology Officer at World View told, “We’ve sold our first few flights.”

World View is also likely to benefit from new legislation, signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, that limits the company’s liability related to commercial space travel.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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