Why a Private Space Balloon Company Is Sending KFC Chicken to the Stratosphere

Arizona-based World View Enterprises has an ambitious goal: send humans to the upper reaches of the atmosphere using high-altitude balloons. It’s a dream that’s still far from a reality, so in the meantime, the company aims to send something a little smaller to the far reaches of space: fried chicken.

Today, World View announced that it will be sending Kentucky Fried Chicken’s new Zinger Spicy Chicken Sandwich into the stratosphere for several days. The sandwich ride is the Stratollite, the company’s balloon vehicle that acts much like a low-rise satellite – except it doesn’t orbit Earth and you don’t need a rocket. to launch it. The Stratollite is essentially a high-altitude balloon designed to hover quietly at around 100,000 feet, while carrying instruments or probes that can provide communications services, for example, or scan the Earth’s surface. For this flight, the balloon will hold a chicken sandwich.

The mission may seem like a gimmick, but the point is to test a meaningful capability for World View. The Stratollite will remain in the stratosphere for four days – the longest flight the vehicle has ever made. So far, Stratollite test flights have lasted between 6 and 12 hours. But ultimately, the company hopes to keep these vehicles in place for months to a year at a time. So stealing chicken could be a big step towards completing even longer missions. (There’s no real reason for the payload to be a chicken, of course, but why not? Marks help marks.)

The “Stratocraft” carried by the Stratollite balloon
Photo: World view

To stay in the upper atmosphere for long periods of time, Stratollites are designed to “surf” high altitude winds. The vehicles will use data collected by national weather services as well as its own onboard instruments to determine which direction the upper atmosphere winds are heading. The Stratollite can then change altitude to ride those winds and stay in the same general location on Earth. Such a technique will allow the balloon to fly in a circle about a few kilometers in diameter.

“Think of it as navigating the stratosphere,” said World View CEO Jane Poynter. The edge in February. “We sail with the winds and enjoy the fact that those winds are moving in all these different directions.”

This flight will be the first in which all the different Stratollite subsystems will be put to the test. Before the company tested parts of the altitude control system, for example, as well as parts of the communications system. From now on, they will all work together, as well as the solar energy technology which will supply energy to the vehicle for several days. Meanwhile, the Stratollite’s payload will weigh around 100 pounds and will primarily include the chicken sandwich, along with other unique items such as “the chicken sandwich flight system that keeps the chicken in good condition,” according to Taber. MacCallum, founder and CTO of World Vision. A camera will also be on board and at some point the sandwich will take a selfie.

After this chicken race, World View ultimately hopes that its Stratollites can provide the same kinds of services as satellites at a much lower cost, because they don’t have to launch on multimillion-dollar rockets. Poynter thinks they could be particularly useful for weather research and advanced evacuation warnings. “If you fly a Stratollite over this area and you fly the ground-pointing radar, you get high-fidelity ground wind information,” Poynter said in February. “So you’re giving them hours and hours of warning, so they can really evacuate and get to safety before a tornado hits the area.”

The KFC Zinger sandwich if it was an astronaut.
Image: FTP Edelman

World View’s ultimate goal is to send people off with these balloons. This tourist company – called Voyager – would see paying customers float gently in the upper atmosphere for five to six hours, inside a sleek cabin with large windows that can look out over the curvature of the planet. All the amenities you could want will be on board, including a bathroom, bar and Wi-Fi – for a $75,000 ticket, which you can already book online.

But before all that happens, the chicken has to fly. The KFC sandwich is expected to take off towards the end of the month, with the Stratollite launch window opening on June 21. The vehicle will take off from a remote site 40 miles outside of Tucson, Arizona and will go somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 feet. World View is even planning to livestream the mission — the first time the company has done a livestream. (And sent a KFC sandwich to the far reaches of space.)

“We’re thrilled to be the ones pushing space travel forward with spicy, crispy chicken sandwiches,” KFC Chairman Kevin Hochman said in a statement.

Updated June 13, 1:00 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to include additional information from a press conference.