World View Wants To Take You To Space With­out Rock­ets


For pri­vate cit­i­zens who want to go into space, the op­tions are pretty lim­ited right now. In the near fu­ture, though, that’s bound to change, as a num­ber of com­pa­nies are ac­tively work­ing on of­fer­ing manned com­mer­cial space flight. Among those com­pa­nies, though, prob­a­bly one of the most in­trigu­ing is Tuc­son-based World View, which wants to take peo­ple to space with­out us­ing space­flight’s big­gest tech­ni­cal hur­dle: rock­ets.

In­stead, World View’s con­cept is to fly peo­ple to the edge of space us­ing large, he­lium balloons at­tached to a pres­sur­ized cap­sule.

The cap­sule, which holds six pas­sen­gers and two crewmem­bers, will con­cep­tu­ally take about an hour and a half to reach a height of 100,000 feet—just at the edge of space and high enough to see the ac­tual cur­va­ture of the Earth (but with no zero-G ef­fect). The bal­loon will float at that altitude for about two hours to al­low the pas­sen­gers to view the Earth move be­low them, and then the cap­sule will glide down to Earth in the span of about 40 min­utes.

Last week, the FAA an­nounced that World View is a com­mer­cial space op­er­a­tion and falls un­der their reg­u­la­tory ju­ris­dic­tion.

The ve­hi­cle it­self is be­ing de­signed by the Paragon Space Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. Jane Poyn­ter, a veteran of the Bio­sphere 2 ex­per­i­ment and Paragon’s Chair­woman and Pres­i­dent, serves as World View’s CEO. NASA veteran and Golden Spike board mem­ber Alan Stern serves as the com­pany’s Chief Sci­en­tist.

The bal­loon tech­nol­ogy it­self has a rich his­tory. Balloons have been used since the 1950’s for sci­en­tific ex­plo­rations of space and near-space en­vi­ron­ments. And more re­cently, dare­devil Felix Baum­gart­ner trav­eled by bal­loon for his sky­dive from space.

“The idea has been around for awhile,” Poyn­ter told me. “It was a very elegant way to get peo­ple to space and un­der­stand the en­vi­ron­ment and how to pro­tect peo­ple.”

It’s a more af­ford­able way to get to space as well. Vir­gin Galac­tic, whose first com­mer­cial flights are planned to launch next year, charges $250,000 for a sub­or­bital flight to space. By con­trast, a bal­loon flight with World View will only cost $75,000. “Drinks in­cluded!” Poyn­ter as­sured me.

World View flights are planned to start in ap­prox­i­mately three years, and the com­pany in­tends to be able to launch from sev­eral dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions.

“We don’t need a lot of in­fra­struc­ture,” said Poyn­ter. “So we can be flex- ible about lo­ca­tions.”

For Poyn­ter, though, be­ing able to send peo­ple into the sky to see the Earth in much the same way as­tro­nauts view it has a ben­e­fit be­yond just the busi­ness ba­sics.

“Yes, this is a fan­tas­tic busi­ness op­por­tu­nity,” she told me. “But on an emo­tional level, I hear as­tro­nauts talk about the in­cred­i­ble, trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing Earth from space. I want to give other peo­ple their ex­pe­ri­ence, and I’m pretty in­spired to de­liver it.”

You can check out a con­cept an­i­ma­tion of a World View flight on Vimeo.

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