World View Enterprises revealed nine months ago the company's plan to provide high-altitude balloon rides to passengers, which would take them high enough to see the Earth's curvature against the infinite darkness of space.
World View is one step closer to making that a reality with a successful June 18 testing of a mockup of the groundbreaking project in Roswell, New Mexico.
The prototype capsule, which is just one-tenth the size of the actual capsule that passengers will ride in, was lifted by a helium balloon to a height of 120,000 feet. The capsule then descended to a height of about 50,000 feet before deploying an aerodynamic parafoil, which floated the capsule to a safe landing.
"It went really, really, really well," World View co-founder and CEO Jane Poynter said. "Actually, the guys hit the ball out of the park. We're thrilled."
Poynter said that the test flight was the first time that the company tested all the capsule's components together. Aside from the one-tenth in size payload used in the test, the balloon is also smaller than what the company will be using for its space balloon rides at one-third the size.
Poynter added that the test flight became the highest parafoil flight, breaking the world record.
World View co-founder and chief technology officer Taber MacCallum wrote in an e-mail that the company's engineers will review data that the test flight collected. Any necessary changes will be made before another test flight is launched.
"We anticipate flying both sub-scale unmanned systems and full-mass simulator test articles," MacCallum said.
The balloon that the test system used is similar to the one used in 2012 by Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian daredevil, in his ascent to a height of 128,000 feet to do a world-record 24-mile skydive.
World View is still aiming to begin its space balloon service in 2016, where a balloon will carry a capsule of six paying passengers and two World View crew members up to a height of 20 miles. The capsule will then float through a parafoil for a two-hour period before descending back to the surface.
The company is looking to charge $75,000 per person for the flight.
World View has initially planned to launch the company's balloon flights from Spaceport America, located in New Mexico. However, the decision on the location has not yet been finalized.
Spaceport is also where Virgin Galactic is looking to launch its first space-tourism flights, which will charge $200,000 per passenger.
"I don't think anyone considers us in a race," said Poynter when asked if they are competing with Virgin Galactic. "We don't consider us in competition because the experience is so completely different."