Using a giant balloon, startup wants to 'launch' space tourists from Kennedy Space Center
If an upstart company's visions come to fruition, adventurous tourists of the future will ascend some 100,000 feet to the stratosphere under a high-altitude balloon and gaze at stunning views of Earth below them – all without the use of a towering rocket.
Space Perspective on Thursday said the company is poised to begin testing its Spaceship Neptune, a 650-foot vehicle that includes a balloon and tethered capsule, sometime next year. The launch site: Kennedy Space Center's former Shuttle Landing Facility, which the company has officially leased from Space Florida, the state's spaceport authority.
After liftoff, the hydrogen-filled balloon will carry a pilot and eight passengers on a 12 mph, two-hour ascent to about 19 miles above Earth, or nearly three times as high as most airliners. There, the group will spend another two hours taking in the views, capturing photos, and socializing.
Those itching to share the experience on social media need not worry – internet access will be provided in the capsule, too.
Though there is no clear delineation, space is widely agreed to begin at either 50 miles above sea level for NASA or 62 miles for some other organizations. The latter is known as the Karman Line.
After a two-hour descent, the capsule will splash down in either the Atlantic Ocean during winter or Gulf of Mexico in the summer. All in all, the trip should take about six hours before recovery via boat.
Founders and co-CEOs Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, who are married, told reporters Thursday that tickets could initially cost around $125,000 with the goal of increasing accessibility as costs go down.
"Absolutely we want to be bringing that down over time," Poynter said. "We want to be able to get the price down so increasing numbers of people can go. That's why we're doing this."
By comparison, other space tourism companies such as Virgin Galactic have proposed minimum ticket prices of around $250,000, though the company could charge more later on. Its model, however, focuses on using a rocket-powered spaceplane that can take tourists to roughly 50 miles in altitude.
And yet others like SpaceX, which uses comparatively massive Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules, plans on flying tourists to low-Earth orbit – at least 250 miles – at a cost that pushes into the millions.
"Current and future leaders, artists, a whole variety of people – that is really what this is all about," Taber said on using the experience to improve life back on Earth. "Everybody should be able to see the Earth from space."
Contact Emre Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly. Support his space journalism by subscribing at floridatoday.com/specialoffer/.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Using a giant balloon, startup wants to 'launch' space tourists from Kennedy Space Center