Arizona-based company World View successfully pulled off a five-day test flight of its specialized high-altitude balloon, which is designed to carry Earth-observing instruments to the upper edges of the atmosphere.
It’s the longest flight yet of the so-called “stratollite,” though eventually World View hopes to keep these vehicles flying for months, or even a year, at a time.
The stratollite is meant to act like a low-hanging satellite. But rather than rocket to space and then orbit the Earth, these vehicles are designed to leisurely float to more than 20 miles up in the stratosphere — and then stay there.
The stratollites “surf” the high-altitude winds in order to hover continuously over one patch of the planet.
Each stratollite balloon carries a package equipped with sensors, cameras, and other types of instruments to collect data on the Earth below.
World View envisions the technology being used for a number of applications, like weather-monitoring, communications, or disaster evacuation.
But in order to work, these vehicles have to stay put for long periods of time, and up until now, the longest stratollite flight had only lasted 27 hours.
World View also attempted a four-day mission at the end of June, sending a stratollite carrying a KFC chicken sandwich to the stratosphere. That mission ended after just 17 hours, due to a leak in the balloon.
This most recent stratollite took off on October 1st from World View’s new headquarters in Tucson — the first launch from the company’s Arizona facility.
The vehicle hovered between 55,000 and 75,000 feet, while successfully testing out equipment designed to steer the balloon and keep it relatively stable at the same spot.
On board were a 50.6-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS camera to do Earth observations, as well as communications equipment from the US military’s Southern Command.
The military is interested in using the stratollite to look for human and drug trafficking, as well as maritime piracy.
World View says it’s going to bring down the stratollite sometime today, after hitting all of its critical milestones.
“This is an enormous leap in our development program and we are certain the stratollite is going to forge a new path in how we observe, react to and collect data about our planet,” Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, said in a statement.
Stratollites aren’t the only form of balloon travel that World View is focusing on. The company is also working on high-altitude balloons that can carry humans to the stratosphere, for a luxurious look at the curvature of the Earth.
This tourism venture, called the Voyager program, is already open for reservations, which run about $75,000 per ticket. However, no human flights have been scheduled yet.
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