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Hot air balloons to take people to space by 2016

World View Enterprises has reported that it will soon be able to take people on hot air balloon rides to the edge of space. Expected to become a reality in 2016, the flights would take passengers up to a height of 30km – or 18.6 miles - and each ticket will cost $75,000. Flights would last just over four hours in total, with ascensions of 1,000 feet per minute. Based in Tucson, Arizona, the company was recently granted approval for the project by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Seen as a commercial space-flight, the capsule will need to be ‘space qualified’ to assure protection of the passengers in high altitude. Using the latest technology, a pressurised capsule, which replaces the traditional wicker basket, can contain up to two pilots and six passengers – all in normal clothing - with an additional parasail also attached. Finally, a 400,000 cubic metre helium balloon is linked to the parasail, creating a surface area of 25 acres. However, the balloon weighs in at merely two tonnes, on account of the light material used to make it. Around 5,000 cubic metres of helium is needed to fill the balloon pre-flight, and at a cost of $60,000, goes some way to justify the ticket price. There have been some ecological concerns regarding the ability to replace the levels of helium, especially as it is a non-renewable source of energy. The depth of the problem is unclear at this stage, however, as it is not known how popular the flights will become in the future.

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