Oct 5, 2022 - News

Tucson company plans to take tourists on leisurely space trips in 2024

Leather chairs surrounding windows in a pod.

A prototype of a World View "Space Lounge." Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

Starting in 2024, a Tucson company plans to send people to the edge of space to see some of the world's wonders from a new vantage point.

State of play: World View is designing a space capsule that will allow up to eight passengers to take a six- to eight-hour trip to Earth's stratosphere.

  • Passengers will spend two to four hours floating at 100,000 feet to take in the view.
  • Passengers will sit around massive windows and will be served a meal and drinks. Think first-class flying.
  • The company plans to build seven spaceports near scenic destinations, starting with the Grand Canyon and later expanding to places like the Great Barrier Reef, the Giza Pyramids and the Serengeti.

Yes, but: It'll cost you $50,000 a seat. That's significantly cheaper than the private rocket rides taken by Jeff Bezos and others who paid millions of dollars — but it's still out of reach to most Americans.

  • Tickets for World View went on sale one year ago, and 1,200 people have already made a deposit, marketing director Phil Wocken says.
A man holding a piece of plastic.
World View marketing director Phil Wocken shows a used balloon. It's as thick as a plastic sandwich bag. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

How it works: Think hot air balloon. A 590-foot-long balloon, made out of plastic no thicker than a sandwich bag, will lift the vessel to the edge of space when filled with helium.

  • On the descent, pilots will deploy a giant parafoil (sort of like what paragliders use), that will allow them to steer to a designated landing zone.
  • It will take about two hours to ascend and 1½ hours to get back to Earth, both at a gentle elevator-like pace, Wocken said.

Safety first: Wocken says World View uses helium and not hydrogen, like some other up-and-coming space tourism companies, because it is nonflammable and nonexplosive.

  • The balloon will contain the same amount of pressure as the stratosphere, so if there is a tear or leak, it will not explode but rather slowly start descending.

Of note: This space flight is much different than the kind you've seen billionaires taking lately.

  • Those used rockets to launch into the stratosphere at high speed and lasted only about 10 minutes.
  • CEO Ryan Hartman tells Axios Phoenix that World View's tours are more about the scenery and less about the adrenaline.

What he's saying: "We want that experience to be free of distractions like zero gravity. We want it to be very focused on the view and the experience of seeing the earth from that height," Hartman says.

  • Before launching, passengers will spend five days exploring the area around the spaceport so they can have a full appreciation for the piece of the Earth they're viewing before they see it from the edge of space, he says.

Flashback: World View started in Tucson in 2012 with a very specific mission: create a balloon lift system that would allow Google engineer Alan Eustace to break the world record for highest skydive.

  • After Eustace's successful 135,890-foot skydive in 2014, the company shifted toward providing unmanned stratospheric flights that allow for photo and video monitoring.
  • The U.S. government, utility companies and others contract with World View to send up cameras and other devices to monitor things such as power lines and methane gas leaks.
  • Wocken says World View's vessels can remain stationary for up to 45 days, unlike other aerial monitoring tools such as drones or satellites, which are constantly moving.

What's next: The company has already launched 115 unmanned crafts into the stratosphere from its first spaceport in Tucson and will continue these commercial launches, even as it expands into passenger space flights.

  • Test flights with people aboard will begin next year.
A circular launch pad with mountains in the background.
World View's Tucson spaceport, as seen from inside the company's headquarters. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios
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