Science

World View to begin transporting passengers in stratospheric balloons in 2024

Aspiring space tourists now have another option to consider.

World View Enterprises is developing a balloon-based system that will take people into the stratosphere, with the first commercial flights targeted for early 2024, the Arizona-based company announced today (Oct. 4).

The typical journey will last six to eight hours and will take passengers to an altitude of at least 100,000 feet (30,000 meters), where they can see the curvature of the Earth against the blackness of space. But the overall experience will last five days, spent in and around sites of natural beauty and cultural and historical significance, World View representatives said.

Related: World View Wants To Open A New Market In The Stratosphere

The World View Explorer capsule will reach altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet (30,000 meters).

The World View Explorer capsule will reach altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet (30,000 meters) on each operational flight. (Image credit: World View Enterprises)

“World View’s ambition is to change the conversation about space tourism. It is not just a ride; it is much bigger and more important than that,” said company president and CEO Ryan Hartman in a statement. “We are redefining space tourism for participants by spending hours at apogee [a flight’s highest point], building memories around some of the most magnificent wonders on Earth. “

Each seat in the company’s eight-passenger pressurized Explorer capsule sells for $ 50,000, significantly less than what any other major space tourism group is charging. And the journey into the stratosphere will be smooth and gentle enough to accommodate people of vastly different ages and fitness levels, according to World View representatives.

“By designing a space tourism experience that is more affordable and more accessible to more people, we hope to give as many humans as possible the opportunity to see our planet from unprecedented new heights,” said Hartman.

And World View already has a customer for its first commercial crewed flight. Nonprofit Space For Humanity purchased all the seats from that debut mission and will fill them with citizen astronauts that it will select and train.

“We are very excited to secure World View’s first commercial capsule,” said Rachel Lyons, executive director of Space for Humanity, in the same statement.

“Our mission is to expand access to space for all, and in doing so, support the transformation of our world’s most ambitious leaders so that they can use their space expertise to create positive change here on Earth,” added Lyons. “This is an innovative time for space tourism, and we look forward to giving more people the opportunity to experience it for themselves.”

The Explorer capsule will carry eight passengers and two employees (a concierge and a tour operator / guide).

The Explorer capsule will carry eight passengers and two employees (a concierge and a tour operator / guide). (Image credit: World View Enterprises)

World View space tourism, take two

This isn’t World View’s first foray into space tourism. Nearly a decade ago, the company announced plans for a balloon capsule system called Voyager, which would transport people into the stratosphere for $ 75,000 per seat.

At the time, World View said it expected to have Voyager up and running by 2016. That didn’t happen. And in 2019, two of World View’s co-founders, Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, started a new company called Space Perspective, which is now developing its own balloon capsule system called Spaceship Neptune. Florida-based Space Perspective expects to begin commercial tourist flights to the stratosphere in 2024, and is selling tickets for the vehicle for $ 125,000 each.

The Explorer plan shares some similarities with the Voyager design, for example ascending with the help of a giant balloon but landing under a parachute on dry land. (The Neptune spacecraft, by contrast, will not employ a parasail, and will return to Earth through the splashes of the ocean.) But Explorer isn’t just the renamed Voyager, Hartman said.

“Everything is different,” he told Space.com in an interview.

The new concept focuses on the desire to help foster “an inspired perspective for a radically improved future,” Hartman added. That desire led the company to map five-day immersive customer experiences at launch sites that are tourist attractions in their own right.

For example, the first operational Explorer flights are scheduled to take off from Page, Arizona, near the Grand Canyon. Clients will have the opportunity to explore nearby Navajo and Hopi reservations, among other excursions, before settling in to soar above the most famous canyon system on Earth.

World View also plans to take off from six other sites around the world: Queensland, Australia, near the Great Barrier Reef; Kenya; Norway; Amazon Brazil; Mongolia, near the Great Wall of China; and Egypt, near the Giza pyramid complex.

The Explorer flight experience will be luxurious, company representatives said. The capsule will feature reclining seats, high-speed Internet access, Earth-facing cameras and telescopes to detect stars, among other amenities. Two World View employees will travel on each flight, one as a concierge and the other as an operator and tour guide. Food and drinks will be served, including specially designed cocktails. And yes, there will be a bathroom on board.

World View is still developing the Explorer capsule, Hartman said. But the company has already made four flights with the giant balloon destined for the project, he added. When fully inflated, that balloon contains 17 million cubic feet (481,400 cubic meters) of gas.

The Explorer capsule and parasail will be reusable. The balloons won’t, but each one will be recycled after the flight into products that benefit communities near the launch site, Harman said.

Photos: The first space tourists

Explorer will spend six to eight hours in the air on most flights, then land on the mainland under a parafoil.

Explorer will spend six to eight hours in the air on most flights, then land on the mainland under a parafoil. (Image credit: World View Enterprises)

Space tourism takes off

World View is entering an increasingly active and active field, one that is taking paying customers to a variety of altitudes.

World View and its most direct competitor, Space Perspective, offer trips to the stratosphere. Both Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are selling trips to suborbital space (at altitudes of around 62 miles or 100 kilometers) aboard rocket-powered ships, which require deeper pockets. The current Virgin Galactic ticket price is $ 450,000; Blue Origin hasn’t announced what it’s charging, but it’s expected to be in the same ballpark as Virgin Galactic, if not more expensive.

And SpaceX recently launched four people on the first fully private mission to Earth orbit, a flight called Inspiration4 that used the company’s Crew Dragon capsule. Inspiration4 was booked and commanded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who has not disclosed how much he paid. But it was probably around $ 200 million, if the seat prices NASA pays for Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station are any guide.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch another orbital sightseeing mission in February, a Crew Dragon trip to the space station that will be operated by Houston’s Axiom Space company. And Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a video producer will fly to the orbiting lab aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in December. (A Russian film crew will also launch to the station aboard a Soyuz on October 5, but Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos is apparently paying at least part of that bill.)

So many things are happening. But World View is confident it can make a name for itself in the space tourism field.

“I don’t see this as a fight for market share at all,” Hartman told Space.com. “In fact, I see it as an extension of the ecosystem that we all feel called to create.”

World View already has extensive experience in stratospheric flight, with balloon-based robotic craft that the company calls Stratollites. Stratollites are designed to carry payloads aloft for extended periods, allowing customers to collect a variety of remote sensing data.

World View will continue to operate Stratollites, but the company expects Explorer to eventually become its largest source of revenue.

“From a revenue standpoint, space tourism will be 65 to 70% of our business,” Hartman said. “We are very excited about this business.”

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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