The Victorian Government has invested $37 million in a US space tourism company.

The state has announced its largest venture capital investment to date, committing $37 million from the Breakthrough Victoria fund to World View, an Arizona-based company specialising in satellite imagery and space tourism. 

The investment has sparked significant debate.

World View, founded in 2012, is known for its remote sensing balloon systems, called stratollites, which can ascend up to 30 kilometres into the stratosphere. 

These systems have applications across various sectors, including agriculture, environmental monitoring, and defence. 

The company's near-space imaging technology is particularly noted for its potential to revolutionise these industries.

The $37 million investment will see World View establish its Indo-Pacific headquarters in Melbourne and construct an advanced manufacturing facility in Victoria. 

This move is expected to create up to 200 jobs in engineering, mission control, flight operations, and data and material sciences. 

“Australia, especially Victoria, offers access to incredibly skilled talent, cutting-edge technology, promising partnerships, smart capital and significant geographic leverage to support our Indo-Pacific remote sensing and future space tourism operations,” says World View's CEO, Ryan M Hartman.

Despite the projected benefits, the investment has been met with criticism. 

Former chair of Mental Health Australia, Matt Berriman, has been particularly vocal, saying that Breakthrough Victoria should be shut down. 

“Are we trying to be the Elon Musk of Australia now? It’s a complete waste of money, and should have been shut down a long time ago,” he said. 

Economist Saul Eslake has also raised concerns about the state's financial priorities, highlighting the $23 million cuts to cancer research and delays to mental health services in the latest Victorian budget. 

He argued that the government's venture capital activities, particularly given the state's growing debt, are not justifiable. 

“Playing venture capitalist is not what we expect state governments to do. And for a state government that is under so much financial pressure … it does seem like a luxury the state can ill afford,” he said.

World View's past ventures have been mixed. 

The company gained media attention in 2017 when it teamed up with KFC to launch a burger into the stratosphere, a mission that was aborted after 17 hours due to technical issues. 

Furthermore, World View was involved in a legal dispute with Pima County, Arizona, after the Goldwater Institute sued over a $15 million investment made by the county. 

The court ruled the arrangement unconstitutional, forcing the county to restructure its agreement with the company.

Additionally, World View has faced challenges in securing regulatory approvals for its space tourism ventures. 

Although it is currently selling tickets for near-space flights from the Great Barrier Reef, regulatory approval for this venture is still pending. 

The company has also not yet applied for regulatory approval for passenger space travel in Australia.

In response to the criticisms, a spokesman for Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said the government is committed to innovation and economic growth. 

“The Victorian government is proud of the work it is doing to drive Victoria's innovation and economic growth through investments in priority sectors like advanced manufacturing and clean energy,” he said.

World View has expressed optimism about the future impact of its operations in Victoria. “There are many use cases and customer sets in the Indo-Pacific region that can benefit from the technology and services available from stratospheric high-altitude ballooning,” a World View spokesperson said.