Arizona-based company World View Enterprises says it has taken a major step towards launching commercial balloon flights to the edge of space, with a successful unmanned test flight that reached an altitude of about 23 miles. The company hopes to begin taking tourists to near space in 2016 with advanced technology it says will open up a new view of the Earth. Sharon Reich reports.
It's a view of Earth few have ever seen. But that may be about to change. Arizona-based company World View Enterprises says it plans to launch commercial balloon flights to space in just two years . And after it's maiden test flight on June 18th, with a small prototype capsule, the company says its plans are on track. The flight tested the balloon's ability to launch and land safely, with particular attention paid to the aerodynamics of the parafoil, a steerable, inflatable wing crucial to the capsule's safe descent. World View's Chief Technical Officer Taber MacCallum says it went exactly as planned. (SOUNDBITE) (English) World View's Chief Technical Officer Taber MacCallum saying: "The test flight was phenomenonally successful. We got data from every part of the flight, from how the balloon behaves during launch, the launch system we've developed to make the launch very safe, how it would cruise in the upper atmosphere." The company wants to launch its space tourism business in 2016. A helium-filled balloon will take a capsule carrying two pilots and six passengers to an altitude of nearly 120,000 feet, where it will remain for about two hours beforee returning slowly to Earth. SOUNDBITE: (English) World View's Chief Technical Officer Taber MacCallum saying: "We're gently lifting off the planet and then floating to the top of the atmosphere like an ice-cube floats to the top of a glass of water." Federal aviation regulations require the balloon to meet the same safety requirements as a manned spacecraft orbiting Earth and while the view may be breathtaking … so is the price tag - voyagers will have to pay a cool 75 thousand dollars for the ride.