World View Raises $26 Million to Take People to Near-Space in Giant Balloon

While sending tourists to Mars might be little more than a pipe dream at this point in time, an Arizona-based startup is making use old-fashioned party favors to get people here on Earth as close to space as possible.

World View, a high-altitude balloon company, wants to take future participants to the edge of space aboard a yet-to-be-built balloon craft called “Voyager”. This stratospheric tourist opportunity has turned the heads of many Silicon Valley investors. The company closed its last round of venture capital funding with $26.5 million, which raised its total valuation to $84 million.

The aerospace firm was founded in October 2013 and has successfully used massive helium balloons to lift Earth-observing instruments to the upper echelons of the atmosphere. Its flagship balloon is known as the “Stratollite” and has been able to suspend a payload the size of a small bus at altitudes as high as 150,000 feet. The world altitude record for highest hot-air-balloon flight stands at 69,850 feet (21,290 meters), meaning these inflatable vehicles are a cut above the rest.

World View / Stratollite

“This is a really key milestone for us, as our focus on the moment is on the Stratollite,” World View co-founder and CEO Jane Poynter told CNBC. “It’s a brand new vehicle that we’re bringing to market that no one else has.”

Stratollite completed nine uncrewed commercial missions last year, one of which suspended equipment in the sky for a company record of five days. The company’s website states that its goal is to be able to fly objects over specific areas for as long as months. Poynter also stated that she would like to complete a lot more uncrewed missions before setting her sights on space tourism with the Voyager.

“We will be flying people in the future but I’d like us to have 100 or more Stratollite flights under our belt first,” she said.

So in a few years, a trendy date might entail dinner at 100,000 feet over the Grand Canyon.