There is a race to space, and Richard Branson recently beat Jeff Bezos when he landed in space on July 11, 2021, via his own Virgin Galactic VSS Unity spaceflight. Besides the two billionaires, Elon Musk also wants to land on Mars using his SpaceX Dragon. You may think that only billionaires are welcome aboard such luxurious flights, but you will be glad to know there is a balloon that will fly passengers into space in 2024. The balloon, Neptune One, is from a Florida-based company, Space Perspective, founded by spouses Jane Poynter and Taber McCallum. As studies forecast a multibillion space tourism industry, you might be curious to know what to expect, so here is what we have learned so far about the balloon flight.
It Will Not Go into Space
Although the balloon is being touted that it will go into space, according to Robb Report, it will not fly into space technically. Instead, it will go up to 19 miles above the Earth and not nearly close to the Karman Line, 62 miles above the Earth. Scientists consider going beyond the Karman Line as entering space because, at that point, astronauts experience weightlessness. Still, Poynter insists there is no definition of space, and the passengers will have a quintessential experience. She explained passengers could see 450 miles in every direction of the Earth and observe the blackness of space, as the astronauts do. Floating above 100,000 feet above ground will take about six hours which is plenty of time to take in the view. Best of all, passengers do not have to deal with the vibrations involved with traveling by rocket. As Poynter told Bloomberg, the balloon travels at 12mph, similar to a bicycle, and the liftoff is a serene floating-away feeling, unlike the loud and terrifying pressure that comes with the rocket takeoff.
It Will Cost $125,000
While aboard the Neptune One flight, passengers will enjoy customized breakfast, drinks, reclining seats, a bathroom, panoramic windows, a cabinet to store personal items and WI-FI that can support live streaming. The balloon is designed to carry eight passengers and a pilot, but it can be controlled remotely. Once the trip is over, the balloon will land on water, where a ship will be waiting to take the passengers to shore. Such an experience will be costly since seats are being reserved at $125,000 for the flights slotted for 2024. It may be expensive, but Poynter revealed that after the test flight carried out on June 18, 2021, 25 hopeful passengers purchased tickets, and she expects a growing demand. Suppose you change your mind after reserving your spot? No need to worry because, according to CNN, the deposits are refundable. However, the refundable deposits, which start at $1,000 per person, are tiered such that Year One flights cost more than later bookings. If you wish to take your friends along, you are not limited; you can reserve an entire capsule.
The Flight Has Been a Long Time Coming
As early as 2013, World View Enterprises kept promising passengers space trips aboard a balloon. According to NBC News, by then, the seats were being sold at$75,000. The company said the flights would be from 2017, but it seems that people will have to wait until 2024. As per the article, the company used the same technique it is using now to advertise the balloon flight. For instance, they said passengers would not feel a zero-gravity sensation, the flight would offer a black-sky view, and the balloon would float over 100,000 feet above the ground. Poynter disclosed that the project had been ongoing for a couple of years, so given that the first commercial flight is anticipated to take place in 2024, it is safe to say, eager passengers should not hold their breath. However, the delays are because the company’s co-founders have shifted their goals. They planned on offering stratospheric ballooning services, but they have since changed and now want to provide high-altitude balloons carrying payloads. The Stratollite idea is aimed at getting as many people to the edge of space as possible.
Other Changes Since the Shift in Objective
With the change in objective also came an adjustment to the balloon. Initially, the balloon was designed to separate from the capsule, and the capsule would glide back on the parafoil. The founders also wanted the original balloon to land on land. The Stratollites have since been designed to land on water, and the capsule will descend under a balloon. It is important to note that while the capsule can be used for multiple flights, the balloon can be used once only. The change to a stratospheric balloon was influenced by the consumers’ fear of flying in rockets. A survey showed that consumers feel that rockets are dangerous, intimidating and cause physical discomfort. Besides, the speed at which rockets fly means that passengers barely enjoy the view despite paying handsomely for the flight. The Stratollite has a payload capacity of up to 4,500kgs. Also, it can stay in flight in a particular area for a week or month. According to LTA Flight Magazine, the Stratollites can float up to 46km into the air. They will come in handy during weather forecasting, disaster recovery and first response, US Aid troops’ surveillance and communications.
The Company’s Co-Founders Always Push the Limits
Poynter and McCallum met during another project, Biosphere 2. Poynter explained that since they had always wanted to go to space, they had to know how they would survive. The Biosphere2 was a three-acre sealed miniature rainforest, private beach with a coral reef, desert, marsh and savanna. They separated the three acres into a living area and about half-acre of farming land. Poynter and the rest lived in the sealed miniature world for two years and twenty minutes, but the experiment found that they were losing tons of oxygen. They eventually figured out that they had put too much compost on the farm, which took up most of the oxygen. Still, despite knowing the danger, Poynter and the other Biosphere 2 residents did not want to give up, so they stayed in for so long that they began losing weight. The interpersonal relationships were poor, but she and her husband came out of the miniature with lessons learned after two years. Therefore, seeing how far these two are willing to go to complete their mission, the Stratollites could be the start of other innovations to come.