A balloon ride to the stratosphere: Is space the new tourism frontier?

Posted by David Henning on 24 June 2021

A new company called Space Perspective is offering a balloon ride to the ultimate tourism frontier – the upper levels of the stratosphere that offers a complete view of planet earth usually reserved for astronauts. The company hopes to fly passengers in 2024, Bloomberg reports.

Picture: Pixabay

How it works

Essentially based on the basic premise that if you let go of a helium balloon, it will rise. Space Perspective intends on using giant ‘space balloons’ to take passengers 30km above the earth. Their vessel is called Neptune One.

The Company’s Co-founders, Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, both serve as technical advisors to Elon Musk on space flight.  They also helped Alan Eustace set a record in 2014 for the highest space balloon flight ever recorded: 41,419 meters

The take-off will be a gentle affair, with a quiet, gentle rise where you float away at around 19km/h The experience will be as straightforward as flying on a commercial flight, according to Poynter.

The propulsion is the most expensive part of the flight as the balloons can only be used once. Made from a high-tensile polyethene that inflate to a height of 213m, they are large enough to fit a rugby pitch inside. The capsule itself is nearly 5 metres in diameter with windows designed to provide panoramic vies without any glare.

Although Space Perspective does not actually enter space (which authorities have put at 100km, called the Kármán Line) they’ll be treated to the same view. At just higher than 40 km, passengers won’t experience zero gravity but will avoid the daunting take-off of space flight and the crushing g-force.

When the flight vessel gets its final tweaks, scheduled for late 2023, it will join a pioneering and nascent space tourism industry.

The Experience

Passengers will arrive a few days before the take-off and have an opportunity to visit the launchpad, inspect the capsule and ensure they feel comfortable with the procedure.

The journey is expected to last around 6 hours, with a test flight lasting 6 hours and 39 minutes. The plan is for the balloon to take off at the crack of dawn in order to get to its highest point of orbit so that passengers can see the sunrise from the stratosphere.

During the takeoff, as the balloon gently rises, the capsule will be equipped with reclining seats, have their breakfast served to them, which will be customised to their preference while socialising with the pilot, who is expected to double as a tour guide.

The capsule even has Wi-Fi onboard, meaning passengers can live-stream their flight, post to their social media or call their grandmother.

Poynter is yet to complete a flight herself, but based on recordings from mounted cameras during the test flights, she mentions that you will be able to see the most amazing stars as you rise and as the sun emerges above the horizon, it comes spilling through like rainbow colours

Eventually, the view will give way to a visual that was previously reserved for astronauts, to a thin blue line that cracks the plane of pitch-black darkness. This only appears when the sun illuminates certain layers of the atmosphere.

How Much?

These flights will not be accessible to your normal guy on the street. Richard Branson’s aspiring space trip company, Virgin Galactic’s long-delayed flights, are approaching their near-final tests and sold for $250 000. The company expects to send researchers into orbit next year, with Branson planning to join a mission before 2023.

Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin recently auctioned off a seat on an 11-minute space flight for $28 million, expected to depart on July 20, with Bezos on board.

Although Space Perspective’s balloon does not actually orbit in space, it provides the same views with a gentle take-off and landing combined with the luxury on board, the longer flight experience, it seems like a more feasible option at $125 000 when compared to the other offerings.

The steep price of tickets for this kind of tourism has not been a deterrent, with Poynter revealing that 25 tickets were sold immediately after a single hour-long seminar.

Currently, it’s difficult to see this space taking off as the next tourism destination with the high price tag that comes with a single trip. But Poynter is hopeful that scaling up the company will bring down production costs and make the flights more accessible. But for now, there is a big enough demand to incentivise pioneering expeditions that will could make space the next tourist destination.




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