World View stratollite
A World View stratospheric balloon, or "stratollite," is prepared for launch from the company's Tucson, Arizona, headquarters in October 2017. Credit: World View

WASHINGTON — World View announced June 5 it performed the longest flight to date of its stratospheric balloon, demonstrating its ability to carry out missions traditionally reserved for satellites.

The company said its Stratollite balloon system recently completed a 16-day test flight, taking off May 18 from the company’s headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, and landing June 3 in Nevada. Prior to this flight, the longest flight by a Stratollite was five days.

In addition to proving its ability for extended flights, the Stratollite also demonstrated its ability to maintain position. That included “multiple” tests where the balloon stayed within an area 100 kilometers in diameter for at least 24 hours at a time, and one test where it remained in an area just nine kilometers in diameter for six and a half hours.

An image of World View’s Stratollite in flight, seen from a ground-based observatory. Credit: Travis Deyoe, Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, Univ. of Arizona
An image of World View’s Stratollite in flight, seen from a ground-based observatory. Credit: Travis Deyoe, Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, Univ. of Arizona

“It was mostly as expected, and in some areas are exceeded our expectations,” Ryan Hartman, the president and chief executive of World View, said in an interview. The demonstration of flying within a nine-kilometer area was one area where the mission exceeded expectations. “Through analysis we expected it could be possible, but you never know until you actually get into it.”

The flight didn’t carry any operational payloads, he said, just a test payload “intended to stress the system” in terms of power and weight during the flight and its stationkeeping maneuvers. “It just proved the overall utility of the Stratollite,” he said.

Hartman, who joined the company in February, said in an earlier interview he was brought in to “productize” the Stratollite system for various potential users. “This flight is one of the stepping stones in our go-to-market strategy,” he said. “What comes next is that we start to expand the performance of the system. We expand the envelope of duration and we tighten up the stationkeeping capabilities.”

Hartman said earlier this year the company had a “nearly endless” list of potential applications for the system. “What has been confirmed to me is that we bring to the table a capability that’s going to make a difference,” he said. He wasn’t specific on markets the company was pursuing, but he emphasized in the interview the roles Stratollite could play in natural disasters, either in providing prediction of severe weather events or support disaster response.

“The markets are pretty massive for Earth observation already, but when you add in our ability to stationkeep and the long duration we bring to the table, the market continues to grow even further,” he said.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...