Balloon-lofted space podule hits 30,000m

World View to welcome paying punters aboard in 2017

US space flight outfit World View has successfully test flown a 1/10 scale model of its balloon-lofted passenger podule, and reckons it'll be ready to welcome paying customers aboard the full-fat version in 2017.

The gondola hit 30,624 metres (100,475ft) before detaching from the mighty helium-filled orb, after which it glided back to terra firma under a parafoil. World View says the mission was intended to demonstrate "gentle liftoff", a "seamless transition" between ascent and decent phases and a "smooth" return to the ground.

The podule on the ground prior to launch

World View co-founder and chief technology officer, Taber MacCallum, said: "While each individual system has been analyzed and extensively tested in previous test flights, this significant milestone allowed us to test and prove all critical flight systems at once. Now we’re ready for the next major phase of development – full scale system testing."

Ultimately, the podule will carry a pilot and up to eight passengers, who'll enjoy "Wi-Fi, a bar and a lavatory" as they rise heavenwards under a balloon which will swell to a whopping 396,436m3. That's "around the size of a football stadium", as World View puts it, adopting the correct standard for such volumes.

The test flight balloon before launch. Pic: World View

Back in 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decided the gondola qualifies as a "space launch vehicle", despite not actually hitting the 100km Kármán line. Accordingly, it'll have "the same pressurization, radiation shielding, and micrometeorite protection as would a rocket-launched LEO-bound vehicle".

That'll no doubt be a great comfort to the passengers as they plummet earthwards following release from the balloon, until the deployed parafoil "becomes progressively more effective" as the atmosphere begins to bite.

The FAA magnificently noted the capsule is "designed to land intact". This is courtesy of a skid system, and promises to be an entertaining experience.

Punters will pay $75,000 per podule place - actually not a bad price "to travel to the edge of space and witness a sunrise against the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space". ®

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