Tucson-based space company World View Enterprises announced the successful test launch of a scaled-down model of its balloon-powered passenger capsule on Saturday, Oct. 26.
The company carried out the test flight of its unmanned spacecraft, which was 10 percent smaller than the vehicle's intended operational size, at an altitude of more than 100,000 feet high above the northern Arizona town of Page.
A detachment system allowed the passenger capsule to disengage from the massive balloon to initiate its controlled landing sequence. It was then guided toward a designated spot through the use of proprietary parafoil, which is similar to a steerable parachute.
The spacecraft's systems had been tested earlier, but the trial launch that Saturday was the first time all systems were combined into a single sequence that simulated the passenger capsule's commercial service, from its launch until its landing.
"This test flight is symbolic of a major step towards a new era of accessible space travel for us all," Jane Poynter, co-founder and CEO of World View, said.
The space company's goal is to launch commercial flights using its line of balloon-powered spacecraft by 2017. The near-space exploration service will allow passengers willing to pay the $75,000 fee to travel in the Earth's stratosphere onboard World View's vehicle and witness the rise of the sun over the planet's curvature.
While World View still has to complete its full-scale system tests before it can officially launch the service, the success of the weekend testing brings the company one step closer to achieving its goal.
Katelyn Mixer, a representative of World View, said that the space company now plans to conduct system tests for its full-size passenger capsule later this year and are expected to run through 2016.
The planned test flight of a full-scale spacecraft will feature an on board pilot, who will help guide the capsule's landing at one of World View's designated sites.
Mixer said the test will also include an autopilot system and the capacity to allow ground controllers to safely land the vehicle.
World View's balloons are capable of reaching 100,000 feet above ground, though not high enough to make it to the Karman line. At an altitude of more than 100 kilometers (62 miles), this line is widely regarded to be the edge of space.
The passenger capsules can fly at altitudes twice as high as those typically reached by commercial aircraft. They can effectively travel altitudes often reserved for weather balloons and next generation aerial platforms for the internet such as the Aquila drones of Facebook and the Project Loon of Google.