High-Flying Balloon Dispute Follows ‘World View’ Announcement

The newly announced World View balloon flight concept shares a number of “striking” similarities to an older proposal for ‘near-space flight experience’ balloon rides, according to the head of the zero2infinity Inbloon project.

Both concepts are competing in the nascent high-altitude balloon market, which would see these craft fly high in the stratosphere with paying clients and/or payloads on board. Some of them would be paying tourists to look at the view, while others would be institutions looking to get above most of the Earth’s atmosphere for scientific and other purposes.

The groundwork for zero2infinity’s Inbloon has been in the works since about 2002, founder Jose Mariano Lopez Urdiales said. So far, the Spanish company has run three test flights with micro versions of its balloon; the last one was in September. A ride high in the atmosphere would (when it happens) cost the equivalent of $150,000 (110,000 Euros).

World View — backed by Arizona’s Paragon Space Development Corp., which is involved in several startup space projects — announced in late October that it would offer rides to the high atmosphere for $75,000 each. Few details were provided, but Paragon president Jane Poynter told Universe Today that more announcements will come. She added that the company has been thinking about this kind of work seriously for at least a decade.

The companies were in talks for Paragon to provide life support systems for Inbloon, Urdiales said, but Paragon decided to go its own route. The World View announcement came shortly after Urdiales was told of Paragon’s decision, he added.

“We were speaking to them for a couple of years. They learned about our business and what we were doing,” Urdiales said in late October.

“A month ago or so, they said ‘We’re not going to be able to supply you. We don’t think we’re going to be able to export this to Spain.’ And then we said, ‘Fine, we’re talking to other suppliers’ … and then they launched this thing. The commonalities are striking.”

As examples, Urdiales said a lot of the marketing language was similar and that the artists’ concepts of the balloon designs for the two companies also appeared to be about the same. He added, however, that he is not planning to pursue any formal action because he would rather focus on running safe flights. The first human-rated Inbloon flight is expected in 2014, he said.

“The hard part is getting the investment, and doing the flight. Both things are pretty hard, and require a level of integrity. Otherwise the tests don’t work and you break something and you [could] kill people.”

World View told Universe Today that Paragon has been pursuing this idea independently for years, long before they heard of Urdiales’ plans. The company did not comment on Urdiales’ claims about previous business talks.

World View Experience.mp4 from World View on Vimeo.

“Let me start by emphasizing that we are not duplicating anyone’s plans. The World View concept has been an interest of ours for many years,” Paragon’s Poynter told Universe Today in an e-mail.

“It is worth mentioning, I think, that the idea of human flight using high altitude balloons is not a recent development. In fact, the origins of this idea date back to the 1950s with the work of Otto Winzen and others.  As for our own origins, [co-founder] Taber [MacCallum] went to high-altitude balloon launches as a child, as his father is an astrophysicist and was studying gamma-ray astronomy using high-altitude balloon launches of telescopes.

“That experience translated,” she added, “later in life, to Paragon’s work on a commercial airship project a decade ago for tourism and cargo. We began developing World View long before we heard about Jose and his initiative. In fact, we’ve been looking at commercial uses of lighter-than-air craft for a long time.”

The URL for World View, worldviewexperience.com, was registered Aug. 24, 2013, according to public domain records. Inbloon’s URL, inbloon.com, was registered May 6, 2009.

Proposed Balloon Ride Would Let You See The Blackness Of Space

Doesn’t that look fun? A startup company is proposing to send customers 19 miles (30 kilometers) into the air via balloon, where they can linger for two hours and look at the curvature of the Earth and experience a black sky. While it’s not high enough to qualify as a spaceflight, the listed ticket price may be a little more affordable for space enthusiasts: $75,000.

Don’t get too excited yet — the project appears to be in very early stages, and no “first flight” date is listed yet. But there are some interesting notes for those looking for space and science experience in the company.

  • Among the members of its executive is Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the New Horizons Pluto mission and NASA’s former associate administrator for the science mission directorate. (He’s also the CEO of the Golden Spike company that wants to offer commercial human missions to the moon.)
  • The executive also includes Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, who were both members of Biosphere 2. More recently, they also took on senior positions in Inspiration Mars, a Dennis Tito-led project that aims to send humans past Mars. (The target launch date for that is Jan. 5, 2018.)
  • The company proposing to build it is Paragon Space Development Corp. (which Poynter and MacCallum co-founded.) Paragon’s customers for thermal, environment and life support systems include a lot of name brands (including NASA). Paragon is also doing work for the Inspiration Mars project as well as Mars One, which aims to send colonists on a one-way trip to the Red Planet by 2023.
Artist's conception of World View's passenger capsule that will be carried aloft during a proposed balloon flight. Credit: World View Enterprises Inc.
Artist’s conception of World View’s passenger capsule that will be carried aloft during a proposed balloon flight. Credit: World View Enterprises Inc.

“Seeing the Earth hanging in the ink-black void of space will help people realize our connection to our home planet and to the universe around us, and will surely offer a transformative experience to our customers,” stated Poynter, who is CEO of World View. “It is also our goal to open up a whole new realm for exercising human curiosity, scientific research and education.”

World View’s announcement came after the Federal Aviation Administration “determined that World View’s spacecraft and its operations fall under the jurisdiction of the office of Commercial Space Flight,” the company added.

More information on their mission is available on the World View website. It’s a bit of a different track than Virgin Galactic and XCOR, who are offering rides into suborbital space for prices of $250,000 and $95,000, respectively. Neither company has an operational spacecraft yet, but they are in flight testing. Reports indicate they are hoping to get flights going next year.