Spaceport Tucson Takes Flight with World View 'Stratollite' Balloon Launch

Preparing to Launch Stratollite from Spaceport Tucson
World View Enterprises prepares to launch a "Stratollite" balloon from Spaceport Tucson on Oct. 1, 2017. (Image credit: World View Enterprises)

Spaceport Tucson is now up and running.

The facility earned its wings Sunday (Oct. 1) with the launch of a World View Enterprises "Stratollite" balloon into the stratosphere.

"Spaceport Tucson, the first-ever purpose-built stratospheric launch facility in the world, is now open for business," World View founder and CEO Jane Poynter said in a statement. "It's no doubt destined to play an important role in attracting new commercial space business to Tucson and the southwestern U.S. We are proud to call Spaceport Tucson our home and primary launch site." 

World View operates the balloon-centric Spaceport Tucson on behalf of Pima County, Arizona. The facility's launch pad is about 700 feet (215 meters) wide, giving it the area of six football fields, Poynter said. [World View's Space Balloon Rides in Pictures]

The mission that lifted off Sunday allowed World View to practice its Stratollite launch protocol from Spaceport Tucson, company representatives said. The company has lofted Stratollites from other locations in the past. In late June, for example, a balloon carrying a KFC chicken sandwich lifted off from the city of Page, in northern Arizona.

Stratollite is a portmanteau of "stratosphere" and "satellite." As its name suggests, the uncrewed vehicle is designed to operate high in the atmosphere for extended periods, giving customers access to a region that's too lofty for most aircraft but too low for satellites, World View representatives have said.

The Stratollite is still in the demonstration phase. When it's fully operational, the balloon will be capable of circumnavigating the globe or hovering over the same spot for weeks or months at a time. Customers will therefore be able to use the Stratollite for a variety of purposes, from monitoring natural disasters to helping provide Wi-Fi service, World View representatives have said.

A World View Enterprises uncrewed Stratollite balloon lifts off from Spaceport Tucson on Oct. 1, 2017. (Image credit: World View Enterprises)

The company is also developing a crewed balloon system, called Voyager, that will take paying customers to an altitude of about 100,000 feet (30,000 meters) in a pressurized capsule. These passengers will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space. Voyager tickets are currently selling for $75,000 each.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.