This New Company Wants to Send You to the Edge of Space in a High-tech Balloon
The capsule’s first test flight could take place as early as 2021.
It’s up, up, and away for Space Perspective, the latest spaceflight startup set on sending tourists to the stars. The company officially opened its Launch Operations Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last month. But unlike most of its competitors, it isn’t using rockets or spaceplanes to bring people to space — it’s using balloons. Space Perspective, co-founded by Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, plans on gently lifting its passengers — or “explorers,” as the company prefers to call them — 100,000 feet into the sky aboard Spaceship Neptune, a reusable pressurized capsule raised by a 650-foot-tall, hydrogen-filled balloon.
“Following the return of human spaceflight from U.S. soil just a few weeks ago, people have never been more excited about space travel,” MacCallum said in a statement. “Few endeavors are more meaningful than enabling people to experience the inspiring perspective of our home planet in space for the betterment of all, and that’s what we are accomplishing with Space Perspective.”
Using a balloon as a method of transportation means that the leisurely round-trip journey from takeoff to splashdown will be approximately six hours, with about two hours spent at the 100,000-foot cruising altitude. (Like NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules, as well as SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Spaceship Neptune will gently land in the sea.) This flight time is markedly different from other spaceflight companies like Virgin Galactic, whose flights on the spaceplane SpaceShipTwo will last about two and a half hours, and Blue Origin, whose flights on the New Shepard capsule will only last about 11 minutes.
And, of course, using a balloon also means that passengers won’t be subjected to intense G-forces of a rocket launch, making the ride much, much easier on the body. On top of that, Spaceship Neptune will come furnished with a bar and bathrooms to round out its luxe experience.
There are some downsides to the balloon ride, however, that could be a dealbreaker for some would-be passengers. In the grand scheme of spaceflight, Space Perspective’s 100,000-foot ceiling, just shy of 19 miles in altitude, isn’t all that high. It falls far short of the Kármán line, the commonly recognized boundary of space, which lies at 62 miles above the Earth’s surface. And, for what it’s worth, the United States doesn’t officially consider you an astronaut until you cross the 50-mile altitude mark. You also won’t experience weightlessness: Gravity will be more or less the same strength as it is at sea level. (By comparison, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin passengers will be able to float in zero gravity for a few minutes.)
But 100,000 feet is nothing to scoff at — you’ll still be able to see the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth from that altitude. Plus, the ticket price will likely be significantly cheaper than those of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, both estimated to cost approximately $250,000 per person. While no official numbers have been released, Poynter and MacCallum have suggested a ticket price of roughly $125,000.
Similarly, an official launch date for Spaceship Neptune has not been announced, but Space Perspective expects the craft’s first test flight to take place in early 2021, with its maiden voyage following just a few years later, if all goes according to plan. The company has, however, opened registration for future passengers — head over to its website to reserve your seat today.