A handful of companies are preparing to launch tourists high into the stratosphere aboard luxury balloons attached to pressurized capsules. Complete with bathrooms, bars, and built-in Wi-Fi, these conveyances are cheaper than traveling by spaceship, not to mention more accessible to passengers of a variety of ages and physical abilities. Plus, instead of a wild, 10-minute ride on a supersonic rocket, with about two minutes of floating time, the balloon trip is more akin to a gentle journey upwards at about 11 mph, with hours to relish views of the planet.
Tour operators say the six-hour round trips ranging from 15 to 20 miles into the stratosphere will provide passengers with views of the curvature of the Earth, the thin blue line of the atmosphere, and the vast blackness of the sky above.
French outfit Zephalto is slated to launch the first European-based consumer flight in late 2024. Starting at $132,000 per person, the trip aboard the six-passenger Céleste will include Michelin-starred cuisine and a well-considered wine list. The capsule, designed by Joseph Dirand, the French designer responsible for the Balmain and Givenchy stores in Paris, will also hold two pilots.
Zephalto founder and aerospace engineer Vincent Farret d’Astiès says the company chose the 15.5-mile altitude “because you are in the darkness of space but without the zero-gravity experience.”
The company has completed three test flights and plans to reach the 15.5-mile mark later this year. Zephalto’s balloon will be certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as a commercial airliner.
Zephalto, which is eventually planning on ramping up to 60 flights a year, is not the only operator aiming to offer a luxury experience in the stratosphere.
Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Space Perspective plans to offer $125,000 trips 20 miles above Earth aboard its eight-passenger Neptune space balloon starting late next year. The journey launches from a vessel called the MS Voyager and splashes down nearby before being towed by two retrieval boats.
The sea-based landing allows Space Perspective to scale its operations around the world, with what the company hopes will be hundreds of launches annually. It says more than 1,200 tickets have been sold so far and that passengers won’t need training or special attire.
“It’s imperative we think about our business with a global mindset,” Space Perspective cofounder and CEO Jane Poynter tells Robb Report. “Removing geographic borders for launch and landing accelerates our mission of making this transformative experience more accessible to the world and international marketplace.”
World View, based in Tucson, Ariz., is packaging $50,000 trips aboard its space balloon with five-day excursions that depart from one of seven “world-wonder” sites, including the Amazon rainforest, the pyramids at Giza, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Great Wall of China.
The company’s 14-million-cubic-foot, helium-filled balloon rises to an altitude of roughly 20 miles. The gentle ride opens space to a broader age range and set of physical abilities, according to CEO Ryan Hartman.
Though the balloons will travel roughly three times higher than a typical commercial airliner, they will remain well below the Kármán Line, the conventional boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space 62 miles above sea level. However, that’s high enough to produce the “overview effect,” the phenomenon of awe and emotional overwhelm that astronauts report when seeing the Earth from space.
Zephalto will offer customers the chance to speak with a psychologist before and after the flight.
“You need psychological preparation,” Farret d’Astiès says. “Seeing Earth in the darkness is an experience that can be emotional.”