Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

World View, a company that builds balloons to send experiments and ultimately humans to the edge of space, plans to place the “advertisement” in the commercial space. The Arizona-based company announced Tuesday morning that it has a sponsor for its most ambitious test flight to date, Kentucky Fried Chicken, which aims to send its Zinger chicken sandwich into space.

“We certainly had a good chuckle when they first called us,” said Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, in an interview with Ars. “Then we thought this is what commercial space is all about. So we think it’s a great opportunity for them and for us.”

Essentially, World View has found a sponsor for a test flight of its stratosphere vehicle, which flies beneath a large balloon to altitudes between 15 and 23 km. The company has completed about five test flights of various systems, but Poynter said the KFC mission will be the vehicle’s first “all-up” flight. The “launch window” opens on June 21, and the company hopes to fly the chicken sandwich — er, payload — for about four days.

The stratolite

World View calls this vehicle a “stratollite,” said to be able to carry about 250 pounds (100 kg) into the stratosphere and then “hold station” for weeks or days at a time. It uses a long arm of solar cells to provide power for a buoyancy control system that allows the vehicle to regulate the pressure inside the balloon, and therefore its height. By riding different wind currents in the stratosphere, the vehicle can maintain its position over any location on Earth, the company says.

If the KFC test flight goes according to plan, Poynter said other commercial stratollite flights could begin later this year, with World View having about a dozen flights on the manifest — from radar and communications to weather and science payloads. “We’re about to do a lot of flights this year,” she said. While the stratocraft that carries the payload, avionics and other systems is completely reusable, the polyethylene material used to make each balloon is not.

Founded in 2013 by Poynter, Taber MacCallum and Pluto scientist Alan Stern, the company’s original goal was to take passengers in a pressurized cabin to an altitude of 30 km using balloons, where they would stay for a few hours. The company got a chance to test its balloon technology in October 2014, when former Google executive Alan Eustace rose 40,000 feet into the stratosphere and then, in a self-contained space suit, jumped safely back to Earth’s surface.

However, building a safe, controllable balloon system has proven technically challenging, and starting with stratollites has allowed World View to both develop a revenue stream and test key technologies for future passenger flight. “Happily, we can use the same technologies and operations for both industries,” said Poynter.

Chicken nauts?

KFC is far from the first major company to consider space as a smart marketing tool. Toshiba sent a chair into space in 2009. Red Bull promoted a Felix Baumgartner jump from 39 km in 2012. As part of the illustrious history of booze in space, Jose Cuervo rocked a margarita at 30,000 feet in 2015. It’s not clear how many other aerospace companies approached KFC before World View, but Poynter said her company wasn’t the first.

A screenshot of the KFC video announcing in April that the Zinger would go to space.
Enlarge / A screenshot of the KFC video announcing in April that the Zinger would go to space.

KFC

KFC has been selling its “Zinger” crispy chicken sandwich in international stores for years, but only started selling it in US restaurants earlier this year. In a video released two months ago, the company said it was sending the Zinger to space not because it was easy, but because it was hard. (It didn’t say how at the time). Some may cry chicken with the claim of reaching space, as the generally accepted boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is 100 km, known as the Kármán line.

We have to say it took incredible will to get this far into the story without succumbing to puns. But we can no longer run away, spurred on by the prospect of flying a chicken sandwich into space. What if you raise your hackles and leave a negative comment? And then. We have thick feathers. Either way, our promise is that we’ll keep our readers updated on developments with the balloon chicken’s sweeping tail. After all, this is a beak deal.

List image by World View

By akfire1

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