Space, for many, is the final frontier. From conducting experiments to enjoying a few moments an experience that is "out-of-the-world", people look skywards for it. A space startup announced on Thursday that it will carry passengers to an altitude of 100,000 feet on a pressurized cabin that will be ferried into space by a hydrogen balloon.
"Spaceship Neptune," is operated by a company known as Space Perspective that operates from facilities leased from NASA through Space Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. The company has inked a Space Act Agreement with the space organization. An arrangement has been made to lease a facility at the three-mile-long runway used by returning space vehicles once.
A Flight of Luxury
Aboard every six-hour flight there will be eight passengers known as "Explorers". The cabin will be equipped with a bar and a restroom. A massive hydrogen-filled balloon will lift the passenger cabin into the air. The vehicle will ascend at a pace of 12 mph to an altitude of around 30 miles. Following a fixed period of stationary orbit for viewing, slow descent of the capsule will follow. The splashdown will be in the Atlantic Ocean where the cabin and crew will be secured by a recovery ship.
Set to begin in 2021, scientific payloads will be carried during test flights. Passenger-bearing flights are expected to commence within the next three-and-a-half years. Piloted test flights will be conducted before that. The flight, however, presents several opportunities other than mere space flight experience.
"And of course, you'll be able to connect with your friends on the ground. And we'll have some really great communication systems so that we can have all kinds of live events up there as well. The whole capsule has been designed to be really flexible to allow for all kinds of things to go on and up in the space environment," said Jane Poynter, co-CEO, Space Perspective
Half The Price of Rocket-Powered Flight
While the prices of tickets for crewed flights are yet to be finalized, the initial cost is expected to be within the ballpark figure of $125,000 per passenger, according to company officials. This, in comparison to the cost that space tourists may incur while enjoying a sub-orbital flight on a rocket-powered spaceplane, is nearly half. An example of a costly space joyrides are the space vehicles by Virgin Galactic that can ascend to altitudes beyond 50 miles.
The company is set to operate from the Florida spaceport initially. The balloon-borne vessel can be launched from several locations across the world. Alaska and Hawaii are some of the potential candidates being considered to serve as future launch sites.
Experiencing The Sight Astronauts Do
Spaceship Neptune will fly at an altitude where the passengers will be unable to experience weightlessness. Nevertheless, they will be able to witness Earth from the perspective of astronauts, as they will be above 99 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. This is nearly double the height that the supersonic passenger airliner, Concorde, once operated at.
"When we take all the people that we want to take to the edge of space, we want them to really be able to experience what astronauts talk about, seeing the Earth in space (and) doing it comfortably, gently and accessibly," said Poynter in a teleconference, according to CBS News.
Also, in contrast to shorter sub-orbital rocket flights that spend very short durations at the height of their trajectory, passengers of Neptune will stay at peak altitude and enjoy the view beholding them for two hours.
Events At The Edge of Space
The company intends to make the flight an out of the world experience by providing a more than unique platform to hold events and engagements. "One of the amazing things about the design we've been able to work up is the ability to have events, things like weddings, corporate events. I can't wait to see spiritual leaders flying with political leaders," said Taber MacCallum, founder and co-CEO, Space Perspective.
MacCallum added that the flights can serve a variety of purposes. From science flights to tourism, there is no dearth of imaginative uses, he said. "We're getting lots of interest in all types of great ideas," he declared. With regard to getting married aboard the flight, MacCallum said it is "the best place to get married, ever."