World View's Stratollite Balloon Stays Aloft for 16 Days on Key Test Mission

Diagram showing the flight path of World View's Stratollite high-altitude balloon system during its most recent test flight, which took place from May 18 to June 3, 2019.
Diagram showing the flight path of World View's Stratollite high-altitude balloon system during its most recent test flight, which took place from May 18 to June 3, 2019. (Image credit: World View Enterprises)

A stratospheric balloon designed to provide long-term bird's-eye views just took a big step toward commercial flight.

The uncrewed Stratollite system, which is built and operated by Arizona-based World View Enterprises, stayed aloft for 16 days on its most recent test mission, besting its previous record by 11 days, company representatives announced Wednesday (June 5).

"This is a great accomplishment for our team and a key step on the path towards productizing the Stratollite and the unique data sets it will provide for our customers," World View President and CEO Ryan Hartman said in a statement Wednesday. 

"Affordable, real-time, persistent intelligence from a high-altitude platform does not exist today," Hartman added. "We are continually inspired by the positive impact such a capability could have on the world, and today marks a big step towards that vision."

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The Stratollite lifted off on May 18 from Tucson, Arizona, and racked up more than 3,000 sky miles (4,830 kilometers) before making a controlled landing in Nevada on Monday (June 3), World View representatives said. 

The reusable balloon notched a number of "station-keeping" milestones along the way, thanks to its controllers in Tucson. For example, the Stratollite managed to stay within a 62-mile-wide (100 kilometers) area for 55 straight hours and within a 5.6-mile-wide (9 km) area for 6.5 consecutive hours, World View representatives said.

The company believes that such high-altitude capabilities will be valued by a variety of customers, from government agencies monitoring weather patterns and natural disasters to businesses offering Wi-Fi service. (Stratollite lays out its envisioned role in its name, which is a portmanteau of "stratosphere" and "satellite.")

World View is also developing a crewed balloon system called Voyager, which will carry paying customers high into the sky on sightseeing trips that will afford them hourslong views of the curvature of Earth against the blackness of space.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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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.