TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A Tucson company is already using balloons to fly research instruments to the edge of space and it's working to fly tourists there too.
Thursday, World View Enterprises gave us a tour of the site near Tucson International where they build the balloons and where they will launch some of them.
World View is inventing new technology built on a history of manned balloon flight that dates back more than 200 years.
The biggest balloon envelopes are so large Worldview uses tables more than 500 feet long to stitch them together.
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly has flown in space four times now he's World View's chief of flight operations.
He says the balloons are a great way to have sustained time in part of the atmosphere too high for planes but too low for orbiting spacecraft.
"High and fast is really exciting. I really loved doing that. Flying on a rocket ship is great; but you know if you have a payload and you want to put it in orbit around the Earth, to fly it on a rocket ship is really expensive. It's really expensive."
World View has a less costly system to fly payloads in the stratosphere. It calls it the Stratollite. The Stratollite balloon can work the air currents and keep scientific instruments in the same area for weeks at a time.
When it's time to come home the Stratollite and the passenger system use a soft wing to glide in.
Part of World View’s new building expands into a tall tower. That's because it's used to set up the large parafoil that would bring the capsules down to a soft landing. Once the air is flowing through the parafoil will turn into a soft steerable wing similar to steerable parachutes and parafoils used in some sport aircraft.
The company expects to grow to be a big part of Tucson's economy. CEO Jany Poynter says, "We imagine that we're going to have something on the order of 400 people here at least."
To attract those jobs, Pima County offered incentives on the building to keep World View in Tucson. Now the county is appealing a court ruling that the deal was so sweet it amounted to a gift of government resources.
World View is officially not part of the suit but confident it is in the building to stay.