The options for space travel are ballooning


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by Harriet Baskas

Ticket prices for a space ride reservation on Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin currently start at $450,000 and skyrocket from there. You’ll also need to meet requirements for training, size and fitness if you’re lucky enough to score a seat for a future blastoff.

Space tourists, however, may soon have a somewhat less expensive, more accessible and far more comfortable way to reach the stratosphere: in a pressurized capsule carried 100,000 feet (almost 20 miles) above Earth by a giant, high-tech balloon.

Two companies are taking reservations now for flights scheduled to depart in 2024: Space Perspective and World View. Here’s what to know:

Space Perspective

Florida Space Coast-based Space Perspective promises “an elegant ascent” in Spaceship Neptune. The ship is comprised of three parts: a “SpaceBalloon” that’s as large as a football field and is powered by renewable hydrogen; a climate-controlled, pressurized capsule that can hold up to eight passengers plus a pilot; and a reserve descent system with four parachutes – just in case.

The planned six-hour round-trip journey will launch from the Kennedy Space Center. It will include a two-hour ascent at a leisurely 12 miles per hour, two hours floating in the capsule at 100,000 feet, and a gentle, two-hour descent to an ocean splashdown and a quick pickup by ship.

There are no individual weight limits or physical health requirements spelled out for Spaceship Neptune passengers. “If you are medically fit to board an airplane, then you are well-suited for this journey,” the Space Perspective website says.

The views out of the capsule’s almost 360-degree panoramic windows will certainly be out of this world, while the experience inside the capsule should be quite comfortable and first class.

The company recently released plans for the interior design of Spaceship Neptune’s Space Lounge. The lounge will include arced, deep, reclining seats that can be reconfigured for a meal or a special event; customizable mood lighting; a bar top made with pellets formed from the same material as the space balloon; a telescope; and interactive screens. Floor lamps, a large windowed restroom, plants and herbs will be other lounge features. Additionally, the capsule will include Wi-Fi, so your trip to the stratosphere can be livestreamed.

“The Space Lounge is designed to optimize the view, of course, with the 360-degree panoramic view,” Jane Poynter, Founder, co-CEO and chief experience officer of Space Perspective told TPG via email,  “but also [to foster] the social exchanges that everyone will have during the flight, and also with those left here on Earth.”

Ready to go? Space Perspective tickets are currently priced at $125,000 per person, with a minimum $1,000 refundable deposit. (Crypto is accepted.) The first commercial flights are scheduled to take off in late 2024, but all 600 tickets for the first year of flights are already sold out. Reservations for 2025 and beyond are open.

World View

Tucson, Arizona-based World View is also taking reservations for rides into the stratosphere in a capsule carried by a balloon to 100,000 feet above the earth.

As described, the technology, launch and landing of the World View balloon flights seem generally the same as the Space Perspective plan (including an onboard lavatory), but with some key differences. The voyages will last longer (6-12 hours), the capsule will separate from the balloon on the descent and touchdowns will occur on land.

World View’s capsule will hold eight passengers (age 18 and older) and two crew members. Service animals that meet the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation will be allowed to fly, too. No special training is required to fly. Again, there is no mandatory medical or physical exam.

“Generally, if you’re healthy enough to fly on an airplane, you will meet the psychological and medical requirements for a World View flight,” the company’s website says.

Tickets for the World View voyages set to take off sometime in 2024 are $50,000 per seat (financing plans and monthly payment available) and require an initial deposit of $500. The company plans to have “spaceports” around the world, with the first slated to be in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon, and the other near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. World View plans to open additional spaceports in Kenya, Norway, Brazil, Egypt and China.

Will you be weightless?

Sorry, no. As World View’s FAQs point out,  these space balloon flights are under a controlled, very gentle ascent and descent. So there is no free fall of the capsule, which is what creates the conditions for weightlessness for travelers in other space travel experiences, such as the Space XVirgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights, and on the Zero-G airplane.

But that doesn’t mean the experience won’t be thrilling.

“At 10,000 feet you have a spectacular panoramic view of Earth’s surface. And with this wide-angle view, you will clearly see the curvature of Earth and the ‘thin blue line’ of Earth’s atmosphere,” World View explains. “Also, because you will be higher than the thickest parts of the atmosphere, you will be enveloped in the darkness of space. Your horizon will stretch into the distance more than 1,000 miles in every direction.”

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