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$50K buys you a ticket to the stratosphere

Novel Approach to Balloon Altitude Control for the Purpose of Stratospheric Balloon Trajectory Control (NASA Flight Opportunities/Flickr)

Tucson-based World View Enterprises plans to start flying tourists to the stratosphere aboard its balloon vehicles by early 2024.

The company, which has flown its unmanned balloons more than 100 times for research and commercial customers, started taking reservations Monday for the six- to 12-hour balloon tourism trips, which will cost $50,000 with a $500 reservation deposit.

World View plans to launch passenger flights up to 100,000 feet from seven destinations around the world it calls its own Seven Wonders of the World — the Grand Canyon, the Amazon rainforest of Peru, the northern coast of Norway, the Giza pyramids in Egypt, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall of China in Mongolia and the Serengeti plains in Kenya.

World View’s announcement came about two months after Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flew their first tourism flights to the edge of space, about 50 miles from the Earth’s surface.

The World View balloon craft will not go into space, but the company promises a much longer, gentler and more transformative experience than rocket flights lasting just a few minutes, company CEO Ryan Hartman said.

Passengers will first explore each destination on the ground before boarding a pressurized capsule for a controlled balloon ride to stratospheric heights up to 100,000 feet.

“That contrast provides a perspective-shifting event for somebody — they start to view the Earth as a living organism, they view the Earth without borders, without race, and it gives the opportunity to truly have a life-changing experience,” Hartman said.

“We believe space tourism is about time. The space tourism that is available now will take you to the edge of space for minutes at a time,” he said. “We believe that in order for someone to truly experience our Earth from on high, you have to spend some time there.”

After hovering for hours using World View’s patented balloon navigation system, the capsule will return to earth near the launch site via a controlled parachute landing.

Hartman said the company is committed the making near-space tourism accessible and will work to make its flights even more affordable.

“We think to have a positive impact on the world … we need to make sure as many people as possible can experience what we have to offer,” he said, noting that many people can’t physically handle the rigors of the G-forces exerted during a rocket-powered flight.

“I envision a future where grandparents and their children and their grandchildren can all experience this together.”

World View also announced that Space for Humanity, a non-profit organization committed to expanding access to space for all humanity, has secured the first commercial flight to take a cohort of citizen astronauts to experience the “Overview Effect” from space for the first time.

World View started the application process to become certified for commercial flights with the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year and plans to apply for approval at the other launch sites as required.

For World View, the balloon tourism program represents a return of sorts to the company’s roots.

When it was founded in 2013 by former company executives and Biosphere II veterans Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, the company’s original goal was to carry tourists to the stratosphere after perfecting its technology through unmanned flights.

World View can keep its balloon vehicles aloft for days or weeks at a time, using an air-ballasting system to change altitudes to where winds can steer the crafts in the desired direction — or allowing them to loiter over an area of interest at a fraction of the cost of a space satellite in geostationary orbit.

But the company’s business flying its unmanned “Stratollite” balloon vehicles for research and commercial purposes took off, and manned flights were put on the back burner.

World View cannot talk about most of its clients under confidentiality agreements, but customers who have been made public include NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ball Aerospace and the U.S. government.

The company also is launching World View Orbits, a fleet of its Stratollite balloon vehicles over North and Central America — an initiative announced in March 2020 but delayed by the pandemic — to offer customers high-resolution imagery and related analytical products for a variety of uses.

After suspending flights and cutting staff during the height of the pandemic, World View is hiring and by the end of the year expects to reach about 100 employees at its headquarters and launch facility south of Tucson International Airport.


(c) 2021 The Arizona Daily Star

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