By Karen Brooks
(Reuters) - An Arizona start-up company says it has successfully completed its first small-scale test flight of a stratospheric balloon and capsule being developed to show tourists a space-like view of the Earth from 19 miles (30 km) above ground.
Privately owned World View, an offshoot of Paragon Space Development Corp, aims to start taking passengers to "the edge of space" in the Voyager vehicle by 2016, according a company statement.
"We couldn't be any more excited about the results from this test flight," said Jane Poynter, chief executive officer of World View. "It represents a foundational achievement that moves us one step closer to offering a life-changing experience to our Voyagers."
The company was able to get its first demonstration vehicle, a scale vehicle known as the Tycho, about one-tenth the planned size of the Voyager, off the ground for more than five hours during its maiden voyage June 18, the statement said.
The craft launched from the Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, New Mexico, at 7:45 a.m. ( and rose 120,000 feet, or more than 22 miles (35 km), into the sky, the statement said.
The company claims the flight broke the world record for the highest parafoil flight when it used its parafoil, an inflatable wing-shaped parachute, at about 50,000 feet (15 km) during the craft's landing.
The test flight focused on four components of the commercial spaceflight system: launch and ground operations, a redundant landing system, parafoil aerodynamics and precision guided landing.
The Voyager vehicle is still being developed and must adhere to the same Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements as a manned spacecraft orbiting Earth.
It will be propelled by a 40 million cubic-foot (1.1 million cubic-meter) helium balloon and a steerable parafoil.
At $75,000 per ticket, the craft is expected initially to carry six passengers and two pilots on what the company describes as a peaceful, sailing-like experience lasting about two hours and offering views of the Earth's curvature against space. The Voyager will go twice as high as commercial jets.
The company is making its Tycho vehicle available immediately for commercial research use by private companies, educational institutions and government entities.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas)