The last time we heard about World View, the company was doing a sort of publicity stunt, using its balloon technology to bring a KFC chicken sandwich into the stratosphere. Now, the Arizona-based company has taken a significant step toward developing its remote sensing system for practical applications.
Before the last month, the Stratollite system had never flown for more than five days in a row. From mid-May to early June, it completed a 16-day mission that demonstrated several key capabilities. According to the company, the balloon held its position for more than eight days on a circular area on the floor of about 120 km wide. She also stopped for 6.5 hours over a 9.5 km diameter circle.
A stratolit flies in the stratosphere at heights between 15 and 23 km and reaches its peak height with a primary buoyancy balloon. Subsequently, secondary balloons are used to quickly rise and fall through the stratosphere. As the vehicle essentially travels on the wind, it attempts to maintain a relatively stable position above the earth.
By holding the position, the payload of a stratollite – usually a camera, communications equipment or other remote sensing equipment – allows customers to have permanent, near-real-time position observations over large areas of interest. The company will be able to deploy stratollites around the world, said World Harting President and Chief Executive Ryan Hartman. In an interview with Ars, Hartman said the recent test was "the culmination of a lot of work has been done on World View for a year." These included maturing subsystems, testing the vehicle's capabilities, and jumping from short flights to multi-week ones Mission. The company hopes to fly 30- and 60-day missions by the end of the year and commercial service by 2020.
The Stratollite vehicle offers greater persistence over a location and better image quality than satellites in low-Earth orbit areas, Hartman said, along with lower costs and longer duration of flights than high altitude drones. "We are dealing with customers today and they really want to bring this capability to market," he said. At the end of 2018, the company closed Series C funding of $ 26.5 million and Hartman said it had enough capital to reach commercial operation.
Currently, the company's air traffic controllers in Tucson, Arizona, control the flight of a stratollite to find the optimal altitude for maintaining its position above the ground. With World View demonstrating system performance, Hartman plans to automate the control of individual stratolites so they can use their on-board sensors and a flight computer for most of a mission.
After a flight the Stratollite vehicle makes a controlled descent so that it can be recovered and flown again. In the case of last month's flight, the Stratollite flew nearly 5,000 km through Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Oregon before landing within 120 yards of a target location.
Listing image by World View