World View, the company whose mission was to send a KFC Zinger chicken sandwich into the edge of space, successfully completed the task but ended the flight early due to a small leak in a balloon.
The publicity stunt originally called for sending the Zinger into space for four days, but after about 17 hours of flight, World View decided to return the Stratollite and Zinger to earth due to what it described as "a small leak in one of the company's innovative new altitude control balloon systems."
The length of the mission is significant given the Stratollites are designed to float in (not quite) space for long periods of time, like weeks or months.
“That said, we are extremely pleased with the results of the mission,” World View CEO Jane Poynter said in a statement released Saturday. “Many of these systems were flown for the very first time and tested together simultaneously. Pending an analysis of large amounts of flight data and key learnings from this mission, World View plans to launch additional Stratollite test missions with increasing flight duration in the near future.”
The Stratollite—a name that denotes both the stratosphere and satellites—does not actually reach what’s generally considered to be space—62 miles above the earth—but the Zinger trip was expected to go somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 feet up, according to The Verge.
Conceived with KFC and creative agency Wieden+Kennedy, the mission met all flight objectives within the first few hours of flight, including the keystone altitude control capability, solar power generation and distribution, high-definition video downlink and effective steering of the vehicle, according to World View.
The company previously explained that the remotely controlled, uncrewed Stratollite vehicle would feature a Stratocraft payload module carried by a system of high-altitude balloons that ascends to and operates along the edge of space, offering low-cost, long-duration persistence over customer-specified areas of interest. The proprietary altitude-control technology allows World View to harness stratospheric winds to steer the Stratollite to and from desired locations and loiter above them for long periods of time, a concept similar to what Google's Project Loon engineers have described.
The Stratollite may eventually be used to assist first responders during emergencies, monitor conditions about the earth or provide remote sensing.
The FCC granted World View a special temporary authorization to conduct the KFC mission in a time frame between June 18 and July 17. The company earlier had announced the launch was going to happen on June 22 but that was pushed back due to ground wind conditions; the mission occurred on June 29.
World View previously has said it has two additional flights planned for this summer, with several others booked with science and research customer payloads planned before the end of the year.