That’s one small step for high-altitude balloon research, one giant cheep for KFC’s Zinger chicken sandwich.
After one weather-related postponement, Arizona-based World View Enterprises sent the sandwich to the stratosphere today from a spot near Page, Ariz., and Lake Powell – mostly as a publicity gambit for the fast-food chain, but also as the first multi-day test mission for World View’s steerable balloon platform.
World View is developing its “Stratollite” balloon system as a low-cost alternative to satellites for Earth imaging, weather monitoring, surveillance and other applications.
“Today’s launch marks a truly historic milestone in our quest to open the stratosphere for business,” World View founder and CEO Jane Poynter said in a news release. “With the maiden voyage of our multi-day mission underway, I am extremely proud of the entire team and all we are learning to make space more accessible. It is especially exciting to have the public along for the ride through our very fun and exciting collaboration with KFC.”
Poynter told journalists earlier this month that “we had a good chuckle” when KFC proposed the Zinger 1 mission, but World View bought into it – primarily because KFC was willing to pay for the test flight.
World View already has flown several Stratollite missions, including research flights for NASA, but none of them lasted more than a few hours.
In contrast, KFC is planning for Zinger 1 to last at least four days. The company has set up a day-by-day schedule of stunts ranging from stratospheric selfies to coupon drops.
A 30-second commercial celebrating liftoff, featuring actor Rob Lowe in the role of KFC’s Colonel Sanders, was released online shortly after today’s liftoff at 6:11 a.m. PT.
“The Zinger’s one and only role in space is to be crispy and spicy,” the spacesuit-clad Lowe said. “It is doing a heck of a job so far.”
World View said the Zinger and its receptacle, which was fashioned to look like a bucket of KFC fried chicken with solar wings, will soar at a target altitude of 77,000 feet. That’s higher than most airplanes fly, but far lower than the internationally accepted boundary of outer space, which is 100 kilometers or 328,084 feet.
When it’s time for the mission to end, the balloon will pop and the bucket will be brought down to a designated landing zone at the end of a remotely steerable parachute.
World View says it will eventually keep Stratollites in the air for months at a time. The company also plans to build a pressurized capsule capable of taking tourists on hours-long excursions in the stratosphere for $75,000 per ticket.