World View Enterprises has executed its longest stratospheric balloon flight ever, steering a solar-powered payload through five days’ worth of testing at altitudes in excess of 55,000 feet.
The high-altitude outing marked the Arizona-based company’s first launch from Spaceport Tucson, and a significant milestone in its plan to fly commercial “Stratollite” missions.
“This is an enormous leap in our development program, and we are certain the Stratollite is going to forge a new path in how we observe, react to and collect data about our planet,” World View co-founder and CEO Jane Poynter said in a news release.
The Stratollite concept aims to provide many of the capabilities of a satellite at a cost that’s potentially orders of magnitude less, thanks to World View’s remote-controlled, balloon-borne platform.
World View said the test flight’s Stratocraft payload module, launched on Oct. 1, included an off-the-shelf, 50.6-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS camera that was used to demonstrate the module’s capability as an Earth observation platform.
It also carried a communications system for the U.S. Southern Command, which is looking into using Stratollites to combat drugs and piracy in heavily trafficked but sparsely monitored maritime regions.
“We think this has the potential to be a game-changer for us – a great, long duration, long-dwell surveillance platform,” said Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command.
World View had its own communications equipment aboard to test the Stratollite’s capability to conduct near-real-time, high-bandwidth data transfer at high altitude.
The platform can be steered or kept in station-keeping mode by raising or lowering the altitude and taking advantage of variations in wind patterns. During this week’s flight, the altitude varied between 55,000 and 75,000 feet – twice as high as the typical altitude for commercial airline flights..
After 122 hours in the air, the Stratollite was brought down to a safe landing today about 260 miles northwest of Tucson, just south of the Grand Canyon, World View said.
“Until now, our longest test flight occurred on Aug. 27 and spanned approximately 27 hours,” said Taber MacCallum, World View co-founder and chief technology officer.
“During that mission, we tested all integrated Stratollite systems through the first complete day-night cycle, a major step towards a long-duration Stratollite vehicle. Building upon that success, we’ve now replicated that flight and demonstrated multiple consecutive days of controlled flight in the stratosphere,”MacCallum said. “We are beyond thrilled with how well the Stratollite is performing.”
In addition to the uncrewed, remote-controlled Stratollite flights, World View aims to build a pressurized, balloon-borne Voyager capsule that could take passengers on hours-long trips to see space-style views of Earth from high altitude. The ticket price for those flights is $75,000, but the time frame for beginning passenger service has not yet been set.