At last: a way to reach mid-stratospheric heights without the rumbling, jarring aid of a rocket.
A new commercial space outlet, called World View Enterprises, has announced plans to sell trips to the middle of the stratosphere aboard a capsule tethered to a giant balloon, a venture geared at customers who are both deep-pocketed and rocket-averse.
Like most budding commercial space, or near-space, ventures, World View is not selling seats in its proposed eight-person capsule for cheap: not cheap, as in $75,000 a seat. That's a price dip, if not a helpful one, from World View's nearest competitor, Virgin Galactic, whose planned joy rides into space run at $250,000 a ticket.
The new venture also appears to hope to distinguish itself from its competitor as a less stomach-reeling option: Virgin Galactic plans to send customers booming into space at supersonic speeds; World View sells less an adrenaline boost, more, well, a worldview.
World View’s ticket holders will be lofted to the stratosphere in a capsule cabled to an enormous helium balloon, like a spider gliding though the skies under a silk parachute. The serene ascent will take about two hours and the capsule will then spend between two and six hours at peak height, 19 miles above Earth. To come down, the capsule will detach from the balloon and cruise for some 40 minutes under a glider, coming to a neat stop on landing skids.
World View promises its customers the “space environment” experience. That includes space views: below, Earth’s blue curvature and, above, the stars, closer than ever before. It also includes a brief period of weightlessness. And, though customers won’t need space suits, the whole cabin will be pressurized in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations on space travel.
But, make no mistake, this is the space travel “experience,” not bona fide space travel. The World Air Sports Federation defines space as beginning at what is called the Kármán line, 62 miles above Earth – or, 43 miles above World View’s highest altitude. To claim real cosmonaut status, customers will still have to endure the brute force, and price, of Virgin Galactic’s trips.
World View flights are slated to depart out of New Mexico’s Spaceport America, also the future departure gate of Virgin Galactic’s space rides. Operations are expected to begin as early as 2015, the New York Times reported.
World View’s CEOs, Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, are also the founders of Paragon Space Development Corp, an Arizona-based contractor that has provided technical support and equipment to numerous NASA projects. It is also a contracted partner with Mars One and Mars Inspiration Foundation, two non-profits planning missions to Mars.