Residents whom have lived in Tucson for many years know that this southern Arizona city has a wide range of diverse attractions available including the world-renowned Tucson Gem And Mineral Show, an alternative healthcare dimension, two exceptional spas on opposite sides of town and a Wild West identity. It is home to Old Tucson, where many Hollywood westerns were filmed.
But now, and into the future, Tucson might well be known as a hub for the emerging space tech industry, as World View—the commercial balloon spaceflight company—recently announced that the city will become home to its global headquarters, conducting launches from its new spaceport.
The new World View campus will be located adjacent to Spaceport Tucson, with a move-in slated for late 2016. The campus will include the Balloon Manufacturing Facility, where it will produce the balloons that will carry its spacecraft and other payloads up to 140,000 feet above Earth; World View’s flight operations control center; engineering and testing facilities; and a launch observation balcony.
But, most importantly, World View is pioneering high-altitude balloon experiences for private citizens, as well as affordable access to a range of near-space commercialization opportunities. The World View flight is available now for commercial flights of unmanned payloads, but is currently taking reservations for passenger flights, where it will create unprecedented access to near-space environments. This passenger experience will be accomplished by taking guests to space in a sealed capsule to see Earth.
According to World View, guests will lift off in a pressurized capsule that holds six passengers and two crew members and comes complete with Wi-Fi and a bar. During the ascent, the helium would expand in the balloon as the pressure inside the balloon equalizes with the low-pressure of the high-altitude atmosphere. After a few hours, the passengers reach their peak height at 100,000 feet, at which point the balloon would be fully expanded. The capsule would then sail the stratosphere for around two hours.
When it’s time for the capsule to return home, the pilot descends by venting the helium and eventually detaching from the balloon itself. The pilot guides the capsule back to the ground using a ParaWing, similar to a paraglider. Although crewed flights won’t begin until late 2017 or early 2018, those interested can purchase World View Experience tickets today for $75,000. Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, explained recently that their space tourism opportunity is unique compared to other options because it’s an extremely gentle experience. It’s also a fraction of the cost of suborbital space tourism companies like Virgin Galactic where tickets run $250,000.
The comparison ends there, as Virgin Galactic plans to send people into space (328,000 feet) on a rocket, whereas World View is simply, but profoundly, giving people a better view of Earth and space from 100,000-feet above, gently rising, with no rockets.
But before World View can launch with paying customers, they’ll need go through a certification process by the FAA, through the testing of their technology. To date, the company has successfully completed the World View Experience flight profile with a one-tenth scale model of its capsule. A full-scale capsule is set to be tested this summer, and crewed test flights will begin in the summer of 2017. Commercial flights are projected to begin by 2018.