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High-Flying Chicken

World View will carry a tasty payload on shakedown launch

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A Kentucky Fried Chicken Zinger sandwich will boldly go where no fast-food meal has gone before, on a World View Enterprises mission to the edge of Earth's atmosphere.

Scheduled for launch on June 21, the mission will serve as more than a public relations stunt. With the fast-food sponsorship, World View will attempt to send its near-space satellite up to an altitude of 15 miles, for an unprecedented four days.

Until now, World View's unmanned balloon system and vehicle, called a "Stratollite," have undertaken missions between only six and 12 hours.

The Louisville, Kentucky-based chicken chain has been running national TV ads touting the event, featuring Rob Lowe as Colonel Sanders giving a JFK-esque parody "man-to-the-moon" speech.

In a KFC promotional YouTube video, Chief Pilot Ron Garan said "there are probably half a dozen things on this mission that have never been done before."

While high-altitude weather balloons have been around for decades, World View's crafts are unique. "Our incredible team of engineers has already cracked how to steer balloons in the stratosphere," said World View CEO Jane Poynter in an email.

According to Poynter, KFC approached World View about the potential of helping to, literally, launch their new chicken sandwich. "We thought it was a bit ridiculous and funny at first ourselves, but quickly realized that this is what commercial space is all about," she said.

The partnership between the fast-food giant and the fledgling near-space start-up is mutually beneficial for both parties, according to spokespeople for the companies.

Kevin Hochman, president of KFC's United States operations, said the company is glad to join forces with a company looking to expand new frontiers. "We're excited to be the ones pushing spicy, crispy, chicken sandwich space-travel forward," he said in a press release.

In the promotional video, World View co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Taber MacCallum, acknowledged the unusual nature of the venture.

"Sure, this whole chicken sandwich payload is a bit funny," he said. "But, KFC gets to embark upon a one-of-a-kind marketing experiment, while we get to pursue our first multi-day shakedown cruise in the stratosphere. It's a win for all."

The chicken sandwich will not be alone in its trip to the edge of the void. The craft will also carry telemetry equipment and a solar-panel array as payload.

Although there's been launches before, MacCallum is calling this a "maiden voyage," because of the new challenges that come with an extended mission length.

"This is a research and development shakedown mission, and as with all things R&D," MacCallum continued, "there's a very real chance some of the new Stratollite systems won't operate nominally," he said.

As a fledgling aerospace company, World View moved into a Pima County-built headquarters and launch-pad last year. The facility at 1805 E. Aerospace Parkway is just south of the airport. County officials hope it will be the beginning of a modern technology hub.

Under the terms of the lease, World View is required to repay the county for the $15 million facility through rent payments over the next 15 years. The controversial lease is the subject of continuing litigation between the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute and Pima County.

Legal issues aside, MacCallum remains optimistic, both about the mission and the odd-couple partnership with KFC.

"In some ways, it's funny, we are flying a chicken sandwich," he said. "But on the other hand, it's one of the world's largest companies trusting the launch of a new product on our maiden voyage flight."

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