Space balloon company is raising funds and will make its first test flight next year

A company that plans to send passengers to the edge of space in a pressurized vehicle under a large balloon said on Wednesday it is on track to fly a demonstration mission next year and has raised the necessary funds to accomplish the feat.

Space Perspective, which is based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, announced that it raised $7 million in seed funding in a funding round led by Prime Movers Lab. This funding will help the company conduct an uncrewed test flight in 2021 and continue additional development work on its Spaceship Neptune pressurized vehicle.

Inside this Neptune craft, a pilot and eight passengers will spend about two hours ascending up to 30 km, above 99% of the atmosphere. From this vantage point, under a balloon the diameter of an American football field, passengers would spend approximately two hours experiencing the view and the “glimpse of Earth” effect. Neptune would then take about two hours to descend back to Earth. Planned to measure almost 5 meters in diameter, the reusable Neptune is designed to fly up to once a week. Only the parachute is thrown away after each flight.

Not quite in space

The company plans to begin selling tickets for this experience in 2021 and intends to begin commercial flights in 2024. In an interview, Space Perspective co-founder Jane Poynter said the company has no not set a final price, but that the tickets would probably cost on the order. $125,000 per passenger. That’s less than half of what Virgin Galactic charges for its short 80km suborbital flight, and likely much less than Blue Origin plans to charge for rides in its New Shepard vehicle, which will take customers above 100 km for a few minutes.

In contrast, Space Perspective will not take customers into “space”, nor offer them a period of weightlessness. However, the company’s flight profile will offer an extended route of six hours. Poynter said this long period of time separates his company from other space tourism ventures. “It provides the time and mental space to absorb the experience of being up there,” she said.

Poynter said independent studies have suggested a market for this kind of exotic tourism – on par with climbing Mount Everest or a luxury African safari – is valued well north of $100 billion a year. The company plans to sell a “life-changing” experience.

Among the company’s investors is Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker. “My life is dedicated to providing people with extraordinary experiences that expand human consciousness,” he said. “I always say that a belief is a poor substitute for an experience. Space Perspective will provide a life-changing experience for people around the world and help us all realize that we are part of one human family sharing this remarkable planet.

Technical challenges

Probably the biggest question is whether the company can overcome the technical hurdles. If that idea sounds familiar, Poynter and Taber MacCallum, the company’s other co-founder, also helped develop World View nearly five years ago. This company was looking to take six passengers 30km away in a pressurized cabin.

Along the way, World View chose to pursue the concept of ‘stratollites’, which were small balloon vehicles designed to carry around 100kg into the stratosphere and then ‘keep station’ for weeks or days at a time. . Poynter said this remote sensing market is too good not to pursue, and has become very consuming for World View. She and MacCallum preferred to focus on human flight and started the new business.

Technically, she says, the idea of ​​raising humans to the edge of space isn’t too difficult, as balloon technology is decades old. With the test flight scheduled for the first half of 2021, Space Perspective will launch an unpressurized Neptune-sized vehicle along its planned flight profile. The objective is to validate the company’s modeling of the performance of the balloon and the vehicle in the atmosphere with real material.

After this test, Space Perspective will proceed with the final design and construction of the first Neptune vehicle, she said. Poynter declined to say how much funding the company will need to get to the first flight, but said it would be significantly less than what Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spent on their launchers and spacecraft.

“Rest assured, that’s far less than any other company you’ve heard of taking people into space,” she said. “Orders of magnitude.”

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