Ride with a view: U.S. firm to offer balloon excursions to stratosphere
Hoping to cash in
on a growing appetite for adventure, an Arizona startup has unveiled
plans for a balloon ride to the stratosphere, offering passengers about
two hours of space-like views from 19 miles above Earth.
Privately owned World
View, an offshoot of Paragon Space Development Corp., plans to start
selling tickets at $75,000 per person within a few months, said
Chairwoman and President Jane Poynter.
company expects to begin flight tests of a demonstration vehicle this
year in Arizona and could be flying passengers within three years,
six passengers and two pilots would be aboard a pressurized capsule that
is still under development. The Federal Aviation Administration has
determined it must meet the same safety requirements as a manned
spacecraft orbiting Earth.
Paragon's intended altitude, water and blood boil, and an unprotected
person would rapidly experience fatal decompression," the FAA, which
oversees commercial spaceflight in the United States, wrote in a letter
Paragon provided to Reuters.
FAA said it took no position as to whether an altitude of 30 kilometers
constitutes outer space, but that Paragon's capsule will need to be
capable of operating in space.
comparison, rides aboard SpaceShipTwo - a suborbital six-passenger,
two-pilot vehicle owned by Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Richard
Branson's London-based Virgin Group - is expected to reach about 68
At that altitude,
passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness in addition
to seeing the curvature of the Earth set against the black sky of space.
View capsules would be propelled by a 40 million cubic-foot (1.1
million cubic-meter) helium balloon and a steerable parafoil, an
inflatable wing-shaped parachute. They should take about 90 minutes to
two hours to reach peak altitude, more than twice as high as where
commercial jets fly.
LONGER, LESS EXPENSIVE
the view may not be as expansive as what SpaceShipTwo can offer, it
will last longer. Project developers expect the capsule to linger in the
middle of the stratosphere for about two hours before returning to the
ground. The descent should take 25 to 40 minutes.
World View ride would cost less than one-third of the $250,000 it will
cost to fly on SpaceShipTwo. So far, about 650 people have put down
deposits or paid for rides on the latter, which is undergoing testing at
manufacturer Scaled Composites' facility in Mojave, California.
Virgin Galactic aims to begin passenger service next summer, Branson said last month.
Galactic and others have shown that the luxury market has shifted from
high-end goods to high-end experiences, Paragon co-founder and Chief
Executive Taber MacCallum told Reuters.
"(We) found we could put together a business
plan that closed in a ticket price that is not too different from other
luxury experiences, like a high-end safari and things like that,"
letter describes World View's initial launches as taking place from New
Mexico's Spaceport America, a commercial port whose anchor tenant is
Virgin Galactic. Poynter said the firm is looking at several U.S. launch
For added safety
and for landing, a steerable parafoil will remain deployed and attached
to the capsule throughout the ride, Poynter and MacCallum said.
balloon you're under is the thickness of a dry cleaner bag. It's very
thin material by necessity to get you so high. That's where the
technical risk lies. The risks of decompression of the spacecraft or
life-support systems failures are really pretty small. We've got lots of
redundant systems and we can return to lower altitudes pretty quickly,"
a chance - and every once in a while you see in scientific ballooning -
of a balloon failure. That's really what took us to having this
para-wing, or parafoil always open so that from just about any altitude
the vehicle could safely glide back," he added.
A Trip to the Stratosphere
A Trip to the Stratosphere