Imagine floating up to the edge of space in a luxuriously comfortable capsule, a drink from the accompanying refreshment bar in hand. You’re surrounded by up to five family members or friends, who are gazing out of wide, dual-paned windows at the curve of Earth below. Perhaps you see the northern lights glistening over the horizon; maybe you watch the sun set under your home planet. Everywhere you look, stars twinkle right at you.
This vision was once meant only for the eyes of trained astronauts. Before World View Enterprises came about in Tucson, the majority of society who wanted to view space had to do so through photographs, TV specials, and online videos. Those days, however, are now gone.
World View, founded in part by two design and crew members from Biosphere 2 and supported by two retired NASA astronauts, is on a mission to bring commercial near-space travel to the public before the end of 2016. Though they currently only fly payloads for research purposes, several members of the World View capsule design team have completed flights to the edge of space under the safety of the capsule’s ParaWing. With backup parachutes, a just-in-case life support system, a pressurized interior, dual-paned windows, and pre-launch balloon checkouts, a six-hour space flight with World View is comparable in safety to a trip on a private plane.
“Ballooning,” or using high-altitude balloons to achieve flight, is far from a modern practice. The technology and design may have advanced, but the general concept is the same: adventurers and researchers alike have used helium and hot air balloons to send humans and lab equipment into the sky since 1935. Now, aspiring “voyagers” can reserve spots for future World View near-space trips for the low and easy price of $75,000 per ticket. Up to six passengers can fit into a capsule, which is manned by two pilots (with the help of the ground crew). The capsule is fitted with a refreshment bar, a lavatory, and free WiFi so passengers can share the breathtaking views on social media. World View strives to provide a “shirtsleeves” environment that doesn’t require passenger training or medical screening, so voyagers can focus on the transformative experience it has to offer.
In 2014, World View led 27 balloon flights for research purposes, including three that were manned by crew. The NASA Flight Opportunities Program provider is currently in the process of lining up increasingly heavy payloads to provide additional reassurance and testing for future passenger flights. For researchers, World View offers an experience unlike any other agency: their instruments are manned, not automated, and the duration of each project is significantly longer than at most facilities, meaning more time for observing, recording, testing, and even taking educational photos and videos. Their stable capsules experience little vibration, enhancing the accuracy of every logistics-based test, and can move at customized speeds. The cost of a World View research flight is up to 600 times less than a comparable flight with another agency.
In a recent TechCrunch report:
” World View, the advanced high altitude balloon company, has raised a $15 million Series B led by Canaan Partners. The round also included investments from Northwest Venture Partners, Tencent, Moment Ventures and Base Ventures. The company had previously raised $7.1 million.
This marks the second aerospace investment for Canaan Partners, who previously invested in Skybox Imaging.
I believe World View’s commercial applications of above-earth technology have the ability to transform entire industries–from communications to emergency response to weather research and forecasting–and we’re excited to be part of it.” Deepak Kamra, General Partner at Canaan Partners.
While the company is perhaps best known for their World View Experience tourism offering, World View plans to use the new funding to advance the development and commercial adoption of their latest product, the Stratollite.
An advanced high altitude balloon, the Stratollite can be placed over specific locations for an extended period of time. The balloons can be deployed rapidly and the payloads can be retrieved if needed.
With these capabilities, a Stratollite could be used for research or remote sensing purposes, to collect weather data, or to provide communications to aid first responders in remote locations during times of disaster.
Though the first passenger near-space voyages are likely over six months away, hopeful travelers can reserve tickets online for a non-refundable deposit of $7,500. Are you ready to travel to the edge of space?