If you’re trying to avoid airborne viruses, heading to a near vacuum might not be the worst idea.
A Florida company is planning to fly passengers to the edge of space in a high-tech version of a hot air balloon, with a pilot and up to eight travelers riding in a pressurized capsule suspended from an enormous blimp.
Human space flight company Space Perspective has scheduled the test flight of its Spaceship Neptune for early 2021, from the auspicious surroundings of the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The refundable reservation deposits are tiered, with higher down payments needed for Year One flights and decreasing for later bookings.
The inaugural test flight took off on June 18 from the Space Coast Spaceport in Titusville, Florida. The six hour and 39-minute flight was uncrewed, but cameras on board captured a stunning image of the Earth at sunrise.
Space Perspective says the test flight is a crucial milestone on its way to taking space tourists on leisurely sightseeing jaunts, with a refreshment bar and social media capabilities to hand.
“We’re committed to fundamentally changing the way people have access to space – both to perform much-needed research to benefit life on Earth and to affect how we view and connect with our planet,” said Space Perspective founder and co-CEO Jane Poynter in a release.
The six-hour trips will involve a two-hour gentle ascent above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere to 100,000 feet – an experience, Space Perspective says, only enjoyed so far by 20 people in human history.
The spaceship was designed in collaboration with UK design studio PriestmanGoode, which is also working on a passenger module concept for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop transport system.
“We looked at all the different elements that would make the experience not just memorable, but truly comfortable as well,” Nigel Goode, designer and cofounder of PriestmanGoode said in a release. “We wanted to make sure that passengers would be able to get 360-degree unobstructed views and that we created an efficient space that would enable them to move around during the journey.”
The capsule is five meters in diameter, while the polyethylene balloon above has a 100-meter diameter when fully inflated, about the length of a football field.
Space Perspective claims that the process will be simple as boarding an airplane and that the capsule’s pressurized capsule offers what it describes as a “shirt-sleeves environment” (although with its plans to host weddings and other events, it could also be black-tie).
The lavatory, it claims, is “the loo with the best view in the known universe,” and is located in the center of the capsule in the splashdown cone.
Space Perspective’s co-founders Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum previously designed the air, food and water systems for the Biosphere 2 space base, in which they lived for two years.
“Our advanced space-balloon is designed to operate in the near vacuum found at the edge of space,” says Space Perspective’s website. “NASA has used similar balloons for decades for flying large research telescopes.”
As helium is in limited supply and needed for critical medical applications, Spaceship Neptune uses hydrogen. “The lift gas inside the balloon is lighter than air and allows Neptune to float on top of the Earth’s atmosphere like an ice cube on water,” Says Space Perspective.
The world’s first space tourist was US millionaire Dennis Tito, who arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) via a Russian Soyuz rocket back in April 2001.
Only a handful have followed in his footsteps in the 20 years since, but companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX,
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are still banking on space tourism finally going interstellar.
Bezos plans to jet off next month to suborbital space on board Blue Origin’s inaugural crewed mission, while SpaceX’s proposal is that those with a few score million dollars to spare might spend days orbiting the Earth, or even stay aboard the International Space Station.
Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, made its first test flight to the edge of space at the end of May, giving stocks in the company a massive 20% boost.
CNN’s Francesca Street and Jackie Wattles contributed to this report.