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Spaceport America may get near-space balloon flights

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PHOTO COURTESY OF WORLD VIEW ENTERPRISES, INC. World View personnel prepare the company\’s balloon in June at Roswell for a test flight that reached 120,000 feet. By 2016, the company hopes to fly a larger balloon with paying passengers, possibly from Spaceport America. emarks@abqjournal.com Mon Oct 27 16:37:51 -0600 2014 1414449463 FILENAME: 180971.jpg

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Paying passengers may soon fly to the edge of space in massive balloons launched from Spaceport America.

World View Enterprises Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., plans to send customers on balloon flights that climb 20 miles into the stratosphere, allowing passengers to view the earth’s curvature and the dark of space while wining and dining in a luxurious cabin with 360-degree views.

No decisions have been made, but the company is in negotiations with Spaceport executives to launch its balloons from southern New Mexico, starting in late 2016, said Chief Technology Officer Taber MacCallum.

“We hope to have a home base at the Spaceport,” MacCallum told the Journal. “It’s an amazing facility.”

MacCallum and World View CEO Jane Poyntner were key players in the “Stratospheric Explorer” team that helped prepare Google executive Alan Eustice for his record-breaking supersonic skydive over Roswell last Friday. The team, set up by Paragon Space Development Corp., created the balloon technology that carried Eustice to nearly 136,000 feet, as well as the spacesuit Eustice used to safely leap back to Earth.

MacCallum and Poyntner co-founded Paragon and then launched World View as a separate company in 2013.

World View has now acquired the balloon and spacesuit technology from Eustice’s jump for incorporation into the balloon flights that will eventually take paying passengers to the Earth’s outer edge.

The company expects to charge $75,000 for seats on a luxury capsule attached to a helium balloon. The capsule, which will carry six passengers and two pilots, will slowly ascend to 100,000 feet and then float in near space before returning to earth. The five-hour trip will include a meal and an open bar in the capsule, equipped with a lavatory and enough room for customers to walk around.

“The balloon will be the size of a football stadium once it’s fully blown up,” said World View Experience Manager Andrew Antonio. “Passengers won’t experience weightlessness, but that’s deliberate. The experience is about the spectacular views they’ll get while enjoying a leisurely flight and not even spill their drinks during takeoff and landing.”

World View flew its first balloon test flight from Roswell last June. The balloon, which was about one-third the size of the one planned for passenger flights, reached 120,000 feet.

“Roswell offers several strategic advantages, such as open landing areas to the east and west,” MacCallum said. “The airport has great facilities with lots of space and privacy.”

With the Eustice skydive done, World View executives will now focus full time on developing their technology and the business strategy for outer-Earth flights, including negotiations with Spaceport America, MacCallum said.

 

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