Arizona-based World View has conducted a successful test of a scale model of its high-altitude balloon system. It ascended to a height of 120,000 feet (36 km) — a vantage point from where the darkness of space and the curvature of Earth can be seen.
The successful flight of the test vehicle, called Tycho, happened on June 18th near Roswell, New Mexico. The vehicle then dropped down to 50,000 feet (15 km), where it deployed a parafoil to glide the capsule the rest of the way back to the surface. A parafoil is a flexible airfoil with an aerodynamic structure that's inflated by the wind.
Here's a shot of the parafoil during the record-breaking test:
Technically speaking, it's not the highest manned balloon altitude flight. That record (unofficially) belongs to Felix Baumgartner who attained a height of 127,851 feet (39 km) during the historic Red Bull Stratos diving project on October 14th, 2012.
In fact, the system uses a balloon similar to the one used by Baumgartner. The recent flight was the first integrated test of all the components. The balloon used is about the third of the size for the planned passenger lifts, while the payload was about one-tenth of what will be used to carry passengers.
World View is planning to begin its $75,000 per-person flights in 2016. The balloons will lift a capsule carrying six passengers and two crew members to a height of 105,600 feet. From there, they'll float under a parafoil for about two hours before returning back to Earth. The planned capsule is going to be big enough for the passengers to walk around.
It's important to note that the World View ascent did not bring the capsule into space. The so-called "edge of space" that's being reported is actually the upper stratosphere. The stratosphere ends at the 150,000-feet mark, while incoming meteors stars to burn up at the 280,000-feet mark. The lowest altitude for satellites is 525,000 feet (160 km).
That said, the height achieved by World View is very impressive — and they see their offering one that rivals Virgin Galactic's space tourism project.
Artist's conception of anticipated view.
Images: World View.