World View Offers Suborbital Balloon Rides

zintroStartup Worldview Enterprises in Tucson, Arizona, plans to offer commercial suborbital balloon rides to reach heights of 19 miles. Although outer space is generally considered to be beyond 62 miles, the company says riders will experience the blackness of space and will even be able to view the Earth’s curvature.

For $75,000, riders will glide at the maximum altitude for approximately two hours. Flights will be marketed to both luxury-minded consumers and scientific researchers studying high-altitude medical issues. World View issued a statement stating that the endeavor plans to offer “the prolonged experiences of spaceflight with the confinement, cost, risks, or health limitations associated with rocket launches.”

World View’s head scientist is former NASA Science Chief Alan Stern, who also leads the agency’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. The FAA has concluded that World View’s spacecraft and operations fall under the jurisdiction of the office of Commercial Space Flight Richard D. Seaman, retired from FAA air traffic control management, shares his view of the novelty of the new enterprise. “High level balloon flight is not foreign to Air Traffic Control, but it is not something frequently repeated, especially in the same general location.”

Aviation safety expert Sasho Andonov shares the possible risks associated with the new enterprise, “Keeping in mind that medicine in space travel is well established I do not believe that these flights will be a bigger risk than other high altitude flights. But there is a need to implement space medicine to potential candidates, and necessary training must take place to account for special circumstances in space and possible equipment malfunction.”

Thomas Farrier is a safety subject matter expert with experience in the FAA Air Traffic Organization’s (ATO) unmanned aircraft systems policy-making and management efforts. Farrier says, “A few years ago I was part of a study team assembled by The Aerospace Corporation that prepared a report entitled Space Weather Biological and System Effects for Suborbital Flights. Beyond the obvious challenges associated with making a rapid, controlled descent from altitude in the event of an emergency, the possibility of encountering unexpected solar particle events must also be considered.”

Passengers on the balloon flights will ride inside a capsule designed by Paragon Space Development Corp. Testing on the capsule components has already begunand World View plans to start demonstrating flight capabilities soon.

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