A commercial spaceflight company that wants to send people on balloon-powered capsule trips to the edge of space has completed a prototype test of its ambitious endeavor.
On October 24, 2015, World View Enterprises – based in Arizona, where the test also took place – sent a one-tenth scale replica of the final vehicle to a height of 30,625 meters (100,475 feet) using a high-altitude balloon filled with helium. Now, the company is working towards its goal of sending humans high into the sky by 2017.
“This test flight is symbolic of a major step towards a new era of accessible space travel for us all,” CEO and co-founder Jane Poynter said in a statement. Of course, this vehicle will not actually be going to space – defined as the Karman line, 100 kilometers (62 miles) up. However, what it will do is still pretty impressive.
Check out a video of the test flight above. World View.
World View is building larger capsules for passengers to travel high into the sky, from where they will be afforded views of the curvature of Earth. Each Voyager capsule, weighing 4,500 kilograms (10,000 pounds), will be carried upwards by a football pitch-sized balloon, taking no more than two hours to ascend to its maximum altitude of 30 kilometers (19 miles).
Here, the Voyager capsule will then float for two hours, giving those on board a stunning view of Earth, while the company even has plans to have a bar on board so they can enjoy a drink. Don’t worry, there’s a toilet as well, and even Wi-Fi.
The capsule then detaches from the balloon and a parasail unfolds, known as the ParaWing, which a pilot on board can use to steer the capsule back to the ground anywhere up to 480 kilometers (300 miles) from the original launch site. The total time of the flight is up to six hours.
Sound unbelievable? Well, this latest successful test proved the entire concept, albeit with a 10% scaled version. But the company is confident that the first planned human flights in just two years can be achieved. Full-scale unmanned tests are expected in the coming months.
“While each individual system has been analyzed and extensively tested in previous test flights, this significant milestone allowed us to test and prove all critical flight systems at once,” said Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Taber MacCallum in the statement. “Now we’re ready for the next major phase of development – full scale system testing.”
MacCullum told IFLScience that the pilot on the first human flight would likely be former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, whose twin brother Scott is currently taking part in the “Year In Space” mission on the ISS. “The process to pilot and land the capsule won’t be unlike flying the Space Shuttle,” said MacCullum. “Both are essentially big gliders, with which Mark already has extensive experience."
A ticket aboard a Voyager capsule will cost you $75,000 (£50,000), significantly less than other high-altitude commercial endeavors such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, but still obviously too dear for many. Nonetheless, initially expensive space tourism ventures like this could make space – or at least near-space – more accessible and hopefully drive the price down in the future.
Image: The scaled test flight on October 24. World View.