Do you dream of going to space, but terrified of getting on a rocket? Never mind, take a balloon ride!
Since the emergence of private aerospace, it has been a few years since we have seen more and more impressive machines follow one another. To reach the upper atmosphere or even space, companies compete in ingenuity and offer more and more sophisticated machines. But the majority of the most advanced projects (with the exception of Richard Branson’s plane) have one thing in common; rather than reinventing the wheel, they stuck to the good old rocket model. A paradigm that has been proven for decades.
But that does not prevent the industry from exploring other more original avenues. This is the case of Space Perspective, a young American start-up who dreams of sending you into the stratosphere… in a balloon. A project that seems to have convinced investors; the company announced on Thursday that it had lifted $ 40 million in preparation for its first commercial flights.
An almost “low cost” alternative to the rocket
The purpose is essentially the same as the last flights of Blue Origin, or Virgin Galactic before them: to offer a small trip to very high altitude to wealthy clients. To afford such a balloon ride, you will have to pay around 107 706 € at the current exchange rate. A price that could seem huge, but which represents an alternative quite economical compared to the rocket.
For comparison, Jeff Bezos sold his first tickets for tens of millions of dollars. Today, the exact price of the seats is not known to the general public. However, many analysts agree that a seat in a New Shepard rocket costs several hundred thousand euros at a minimum.
In addition, the price of this balloon trip could drop even faster than the price of rocket take-offs. The latter have many more or less incompressible costs; for larger launches, the price of fuel alone can sometimes approach a million dollars. Constraints that are completely foreign to the Space Perspective balloon, whose only fuel will be Archimedes’ thrust.
A real flying lounge
We also imagine that the trip will be much calmere on board a balloon; an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your tolerance for thrills. In addition, there will be no need for any special training. This could open the doors of space to elderly, or suffering from health problems.
Not everyone will necessarily be able to take a rocket trip at 90 like William Shatner did! Here, the balloon will rise for two hours at around 20km / h, stay at its peak for two hours, then descend gently.
In addition, such a balloon is fine less demanding at the structural level. Unlike a rocket, it will never be subjected to large-scale forces. This gives engineers great freedom to set up a perfect observation post. Passengers will enjoy the comfort of a private jet, bar included. They will therefore have plenty of time to observe the Earth from all possible angles in royal conditions. Overhang effect guaranteed!
First flights planned for 2024
Obviously, the ball also imposes some additional constraints. In the absence of air to trigger Archimedes’ thrust, the laws of physics prohibit such a machine from venturing to the Karman line, considered the border of space, 100 km from the sea level. It will be necessary to be satisfied with climbing to approximately 32km of altitude. For comparison, it’s slightly lower than Felix Baumgartner’s jump. On the other hand, it is much higher than the average for airliners, which usually operate at a maximum altitude of 15 km.
According to Tech Crunch, the company successfully launched a first empty balloon at the target altitude last June. They will carry out other tests of this kind in the coming months, before a first manned flight in 2023. Commercial flights will begin in 2024, but the seats are already all reserved. If you want to book a flight, you will have to take your troubles patiently until 2025.
Other solutions of this type exist, including one in particular, French, led by the company Zephalto. For its part, it promises flights of several days, real balloon cruises miles above the ground.