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For World View Enterprises, the flight is expected to serve as a four-day shakedown cruise for its “Stratollite” system, which could eventually send military and commercial imaging payloads to the edge of the atmosphere for months at a time. “When KFC first brought this to us, we had a good chuckle,” World View CEO Jane Poynter told reporters during a teleconference today. But then the Arizona-based company realized there could be a serious point behind the project. “If you can fly a chicken sandwich to the edge of space … you can fly really just about anything,” Poynter said.
Besides, the payment that KFC is providing for the publicity will cover the cost of the test flight, including the expense of beaming down live HD video from a height of 60,000 to 75,000 feet, Poynter said.
Neither she nor KFC brand communications director George Felix would say precisely how much the fast-food chain is paying, but Felix said “we’re fully confident that this is going to be worth every penny.” For reference, NASA has paid World View as much as $440,000 for balloon test flights.
What is interesting to me is how World View appears to have significantly backed off its effort to sell and fly tourists on a balloon.
When World View was founded in 2013, the company’s main objective was to provide hours-long tours to the stratosphere in a pressurized Voyager capsule for $75,000 a ticket. Since then, World View has pivoted to the Stratollite concept, but it still intends to fly people someday. “We’re actually making huge progress,” Poynter said.
Poynter is no longer giving out a timetable for the start of Voyager tours, but she said two more Stratollite missions are scheduled for this summer. MacCallum, who is Poynter’s husband, said a full-scale mass simulator for the Voyager capsule is due to be flown by the end of the year.
All in all, the suborbital space tourism business appears, at least for now, to be fading, overwhelmed by the new and growing orbital launch industry.