When we last heard from World View, the company was performing something of an advertising stunt by launching a KFC chicken sandwich into the stratosphere with its balloon technology. Now the Arizona-based company has taken a significant step toward developing its remote sensing system for practical applications.
Prior to last month, the Stratollite system had never flown for longer than five days at a stretch. But from mid-May to early June, it completed a 16-day mission that demonstrated several key abilities. For more than eight days, the company said, the balloon maintained its position over a circular area on the ground about 120km wide. It also held station over a circle with a diameter of just 9.5km for 6.5 hours.
Flying in the stratosphere at altitudes between 15 and 23km, a Stratollite uses a primary lift balloon to reach its peak altitude, and then uses secondary balloons to rapidly rise and fall through the stratosphere. By essentially riding the winds, the vehicle attempts to maintain a relatively stable position over the Earth.
By holding position, a Stratollite's payload—typically a camera, communications equipment, or other remote sensing equipment—allows customers persistent, near-real-time observations over large areas of interest. The company will have the capability to deploy Stratollites around the world, said Ryan Hartman, World View's president and chief executive.
Eyeing commercial flight
In an interview with Ars, Hartman said the recent test is the "culmination of a lot of work thats been going on at World View for a year," which included the maturing of subsystems, proving out the vehicle's capabilities, and making the leap from short flights to a multi-week mission. The company hopes to fly 30- and 60-day missions by the end of the year, and to begin offering commercial service in 2020.