Anyone who was up early last Thursday morning and looking toward the Page airport may have noticed what looked like a strange weather balloon being launched into the dawn sky. The strange balloon was not a weather balloon but rather belongs to Worldview Enterprises, an edge-of-space tourism company that wants to use Page as one of its auxiliary launch sites.
Worldview Enterprises did a similar launch from the Page Airport in October 2015, during a test period when they were determining where to base their unique tourism company. Page was one of five cities being considered for the company’s headquarters, but ultimately they chose Tucson for their base.
Worldview Enterprises, which calls itself a stratospheric exploration company, uses a large helium-filled balloon that slowly ascends to the uppermost limits of Earth’s atmosphere, right to the very edge of space. The tourists will ride in a capsule slightly larger than a VW bus, suspended below the balloon by a 150-foot high-tensile sling.
Worldview Enterprises is still in the test phase with its near space vehicles, and has yet to take humans up to the stratosphere in their capsule, said Melissa Wren, a Worldview Enterprises spokesperson.
Last Thursday’s flight from Page was a research and development shakedown test, meant to evaluate the systems of the balloon, the capsule and its instrumentation, said Wren.
The company will offer two types of flights: the first type will be unmanned, data gathering flights for hire by government agencies and enterprise groups who may want to do communications, remote sensing, weather information collection and other research. Worldview plans to advance the technology of their unmanned balloons and the capsule it carries so they can stay aloft on the edge of space for weeks and even months at a time and can be “steered” using stratospheric winds.
Worldview Enterprise’s ultimate goal is to take manned flights to near space in their balloon-suspended capsules, but the technology to do so is still in development, said Wren.
“We expect to launch them in the near future,” she said.
Thursday’s successful test flight took them a lot closer to that goal, she said.
When the company starts offering manned flights with tourists, they want to be able to offer them several desirable destinations from which to launch, said Andrew Antonio, Worldview Enterprises’ corporate development director. He believes one of those places will be Page.
“Page and the landscape surrounding it are absolutely beautiful,” said Antonio. “And the weather here is great for what we want to do. Page has incredible weather for ballooning.”
Worldview Enterprises will transport their clients into space inside a pressurized capsule that fits six people: four passengers and two pilots. The capsule will be pressurized and luxuriously appointed, said Antonio.
The capsule will include wi-fi, a full bar and a bathroom.
“The idea is to transport our clients to near-space in serenity and tranquility,” said Antonio.
Instead of being transported into space while being shaken like a martini, their guests will gently float into space while sipping martinis.
The capsule will ascend to 100,000 feet above the ground, which will put it above 99.9 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere.
From that height, passengers will be able to see the curvature of the Earth, and they’ll be surrounded by stars and the darkness of space.
Ascending to such heights will take about one and a half hours. One big reason that Worldview Enterprises likes Page is that it will offer their clients breath-taking views of the surrounding area while they lift into space.
Once the capsule has attained the height of 100,000 feet, which will put it right on the edge of space, the capsule will float at that level for about two hours.
After floating in near-space for two hours, the pilots aboard the capsule will deploy a para-foil, similar to a paraglider’s chute, and guide the capsule back to Earth.
Page may also be used from time to time as a launch site for the company’s unmanned scientific balloons, on the occasions when weather is uncooperative in Tucson, and fair in Page, said Wren.