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Arizona company has high hopes for balloon flights

June 25, 2014, Albuquerque, N.M. - An Arizona company said Tuesday it has successfully completed the first small-scale test flight of a high-altitude balloon and capsule being developed to let tourists float 20 miles (32 kilometres) above the earth.


June 25, 2014
By The Associated Press

World View Enterprises of Tucson said it launched the flight last week from Roswell, New Mexico.

 

CEO Jane Poynter said the system broke
the world record for highest parafoil flight, lifting a payload to
120,000 feet (36,576 metres).

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"It went really, really, really well," Poynter said. "Actually, the guys hit the ball out of the park. We're thrilled."

 

The system uses a balloon similar to that
used in 2012 to lift Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner 128,000 feet
(39,014 metres) to make a world-record breaking 24-mile
(38.62-kilometre) sky dive. That flight also launched from the Roswell
airport.

 

Poynter said that last week's flight was
the first testing all the components together. It used a balloon about
third the size of that planned for passenger flight to lift a payload of
about one-tenth of what will be used to carry passengers.

 

The company is still
planning to begin its $75,000 per-person flights in 2016, she said. The
balloons will lift a capsule carrying six passengers and two crew
members 20 miles (32 kilometres) up, where they will float under a
parafoil for about two hours before floating back down to earth. The
capsule will be big enough for the passengers to walk around.

 

The selling point is the view of the
Earth and seeing its curve, the company says. Other space-tourism
ventures under development will rocket passengers the full 62 miles (100
kilometres) into space but on much shorter flights.

 

In filings with the Federal Aviation
Administration, World View said it planned to launch its flights from
Spaceport America in New Mexico. But Poynter Tuesday said that no final
decision has been made on where to base the flights.

 

Spaceport is where Virgin
Galactic plans to launch its first space-tourism flights at a cost of
$200,000 per person.

 

Development of Virgin's spacecraft has taken longer
than originally planned, and it is unclear when the company, founded by
British billionaire Richard Branson, will make its first flight. The
company's newest target date is the end of this year, but it has said
that for each of the last several years.

 

"I don't think anyone considers us in a
race," Poynter said when asked if they might beat Virgin Galactic to
passenger flight. "We don't consider us in competition because the
experience is so completely different."