Just this past weekend, Tucson, Arizona-based startup World View Enterprises successfully took one giant step towards making commercial space travel a reality. On Saturday, at an airstrip near the Arizona/Utah border, World View launched the first test flight for a scaled-down version of its balloon-based space tourism capsule, sending the prototype some 100,000 feet into Earth’s atmosphere. After achieving highly positive results, the company now intends to roll out full-scale testing of the Voyager Capsule, with its sights set on an actual manned mission as early as 2017.
For those unaware of the Voyager Capsule and its intended use for World View, it’s essentially a pressurized cabin which makes use of a helium-filled balloon to travel over 20 miles to the edge of space. Whereas standard space-traveling rockets propel passengers (aka astronauts) at a blistering speed into the cosmos, a trip aboard the Voyager Capsule is actually rather serene. During an actual trip, passengers won’t have to deal with the effects of traveling at Mach speeds but will instead enjoy a steady, two-hour ascent above the clouds before reaching their ultimate destination.
Similar to commercial space travel endeavors from Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, World View’s Voyager Capsule was built to give handsomely paying customers the ability to enjoy what can only be described as extreme tourism. For a lofty $75k, passengers will not only receive a spot inside the company’s capsule, but also get access to in-flight Wi-Fi and a selection of premium cocktails. After reaching cruising altitude, passengers would then simply peer outside to get a look at the gorgeous curvature of planet Earth. Though the price tag may seem a bit steep, World View announced last July capsule spots are already selling quickly.
“We’ve had families sign up and buy the whole capsule,” MacCallum said. “You can take your parents and children. It’s going to be the ultimate Facebook status update: the entire family in space.”
During the test flight, World View launched a 1,000-pound replica of the Voyager Capsule (called Vanguard) outfit with all of the working technology and controls built for the final model. After testing wind conditions and running a series of pre-flight tests, the company officially set the Vanguard loose shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday morning. After ascending for roughly two hours, the capsule reached its intended cruising altitude of 100,475 feet, with every primary system working just as World View anticipated. Vanguard then flew at the cruising altitude for one hour before detaching from the balloon and beginning its descent.
With this inaugural test flight under its belt, World View now plans to examine the trial’s data in order to make necessary adjustments and corrections before beginning full-scale testing. World View’s chief engineer Sebastian Padilla admitted the next phase of testing could take place as early as later this year, and also confirmed that the company does indeed plan to begin manned missions by 2017.