High-altitude balloon company to break into space tourism market
World View, a firm known for manufacturing high-altitude balloons that can lift payloads to the stratosphere, announced its entry into the space tourism market.
According to the company's press release, a 12-hour-long flight in a special capsule will cost just $50,000 – a fraction of what customers have to pay for a trip aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard or Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.
The cost also includes a 5-day-long “immersive experience” full of excursions around the company's spaceports, and culminating with the flight itself.
The spaceports, according to the press release, are going to be situated in the most picturesque locations on the planet. Given that balloon launches do not need sprawling infrastructure associated with spacecraft, World View hopes to establish bases in such places as the Grand Canyon in the United States, the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, Brazil’s Amazon forest, and Egypt’s Giza pyramid complex.
The full list – which the company designates as its own take of the Seven Wonders – also includes northern Norway, where the launches could happen in the light of Aurora Borealis, Serengeti national park in Kenya, and the Great Wall of China in Inner Mongolia province.
“Participants will be offered excursions from the Spaceports, enabling them to fully experience and immerse themselves in the beauty, fragility, history, and importance of the areas surrounding the Seven Wonders,” the press release states.
With this, World View seeks to “redefine space tourism”, it claims, by not only turning spaceflight into a days-long experience, but also by making it much more accessible.
The flight itself would take tourists to the altitude of 100,000 feet (23 miles, or 30.5 kilometers), which is approximately three times higher than the cruising altitude of most commercial aircraft.
It is also the altitude from which the curvature of the Earth becomes visible and the sky turns black, giving an illusion of being in space.
Such an altitude is, however, quite far from both the Kármán line (100 kilometers / 62 miles), which is the internationally recognized border of space. It is also less than half-way up to the 80 kilometers (50 miles) altitude, the border of space as recognized by NASA.
So, despite not reaching the vicinity of actual space, voyages to the stratosphere are often branded as “flights to the edge of space” by some tourism companies. The altitude of 20-25 kilometers can be reached by high-powered military jets, and there are many firms that offer a seat on one of them.
Flying to such an altitude in an aircraft is expensive, dangerous and needs the near-space tourist to undergo special preparations, which is why there have been numerous attempts to come up with alternative edge-of-space flight methods – for example, by attaching a special passenger capsule to an aircraft.
World View is not the first company to offer a balloon as a solution to this problem. The startup Space Perspective has been trying to start such flights in 2013, and finally started selling tickets in 2020.
It is also World View’s second attempt to attract attention and funding to their flights. The company has already announced its plans in 2015, although back then the price for a flight was going to be $75,000, not including the five-day stay near a world-famous landmark. Since the announcement, World View resorted to test flights and scientific experiments.
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