One of the leading remote sensing satellite operator, World View starts its program of stratospheric balloons able to deliver commercial payloads below Low Earth Orbit instead using sounding rockets.
World View managed to successfully performed first from their planned series of balloon stratospheric flights on October 1, 2017. Test flight was performed from Spaceport Tucson in Arizona, USA.
Flight was possible as Federal Aviation Administration granted recently World View with certificate allowing Company to operate with stratospheric balloons from Spaceport Tucson.
This mission is part of Stratollite program. It covers series of flights with commercial payloads along with imaging payload to altitude of 24000 m. Special platform with payload is solar powered and remotely controlled thanks to special foil steering surfaces. Balloon is able to perform long missions lasting even few months. Balloons can be utilized for Earth imaging and weather monitoring and emergency response, but also for astronomy as platform for observation devices - balloons are providing extremely stable and free from vibrations conditions perfect for precision instruments. Stratollite already found acceptance from NASA and was granted in the beginning of 2017 with grant covering $300000.
It is worth to remind that Stratollite was established in 2013 as commercial initiative of World View. Program was at the beginning focused on high altitude touristic flights. Company evaluated price for stratospheric flight from Spaceport Tucson to $75000. Now it seems that using Stratollite for scientific missions seems more profitable for World View, but according to World View CEO Jane Poynter development of the Voyager passenger capsule is still in progress; Company would ilke to reduce price to $30000 level to stay competitive with companies like Virgin Galactic able to offer real space flight even for $250000.