WASHINGTON — A company with plans to give people a taste of spaceflight by taking them into the stratosphere on balloons successfully tested a key element of their system Feb. 20, in the process setting a world record.

Tucson, Arizona-based World View announced that it deployed a parafoil from an altitude of 31,150 meters, a new record altitude for a parafoil. The parafoil was carried aloft by a balloon that also contained several experiments from Montana State University and the University of North Florida.

World View plans to develop a pressurized gondola that will carry several people to similar altitudes. At the end of the flight, the gondola will separate from the balloon and glide back to Earth under a parafoil.

“The successful flight of the parafoil at this altitude brings us closer to flying private citizens safely to the edge of space and also allows us to continue our research and education program by providing safe access to the near-space environment,” Taber MacCallum, chief technology officer of World View, said in a Feb. 20 statement about the flight.

World View said it is working with United Parachute Technologies on both the parafoil technology tested in this flight and the parafoil planned for use on later crewed missions. The two companies also worked together on StratEx, the record-setting high-altitude parachute jump by Google executive Alan Eustace in October 2014.


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...