World View’s high-altitude science balloon nails its longest flight yet

Elon Musk and his SpaceX team may grab all of the headlines with their rocket-landing feats and talk of going to Mars, but an Arizona-based outfit has been working diligently on its own high-altitude project aimed at drastically reducing the cost of satellite deployment.

World View, which has a number of different sky-based projects on the go, just scored a success with its Stratollite balloon system by completing a five-day flight, its longest yet in the stratosphere.

The Stratollite is an uncrewed and remotely controlled vehicle that’s taken to the edge of space by a system of high-altitude balloons. Offering deployment at low cost and for long durations, the Stratollite harnesses stratospheric winds to move to and from desired locations and, once fully developed should be able to stay floating on the edge of space for up to several months.

“This is our first successful attempt at testing all of the Stratollite’s integrated critical systems over the course of multiple days, and we’re thrilled with how everything worked,” said Jane Poynter, World View founder and CEO. “This is an enormous leap in our development program and we’re certain the Stratollite is going to forge a new path in how we observe, react to, and collect data about our planet.”

Five days may not seem that long considering World View plans months-long flights with its balloon, but this latest mission was a significant improvement on the Stratollite’s previous longest flight of just 27 hours.

The Stratollite is capable of carrying a wide variety of commercial payloads, including sensors, telescopes, and communications arrays, all of which can be brought safely back to terra firma once the mission is over. World View engineers say the system has the potential to help researchers “greatly advance knowledge of planet Earth, improve our ability to identify and track severe weather, and assist first responders during natural disasters.”

Flying at an altitude of between 55,000 and 75,000 feet, the Stratollite’s most recent test flight saw it successfully demonstrate both directional steering and station-keeping trajectories. Its solar-power systems also operated as planned through day and night cycles, the team confirmed. It took to the skies equipped with a Canon EOS 5DS camera, enabling World View to demonstrate the Stratollite as a viable platform for high-altitude Earth observation.

It also carried a communications payload for U.S. Southern Command, which could use World View’s technology in the fight against human and drug trafficking, as well as maritime piracy in sparsely monitored locations.

The company is also trying out a system for near real-time, high-bandwidth data transfer from a high altitude that could be used to deliver real-time data to future commercial customers.

Other World View projects include Voyager, a balloon-based space tourism capsule, which, if it makes it through the testing stage, will cost moneyed tourists $75,000 each for the ride of a lifetime.