Turns out you don’t need a rocket to explore the edge of space.
French startup From the coat has just announced plans to send eager tourists into the stratosphere in a space balloon by 2025. Starting at €120,000 per person, the six-hour round trip offers “unparalleled views” of Earth and an upscale dining experience in the comfort of a luxury pressure capsule called the Celeste.
“We chose 25km altitude because it’s the altitude where you are in the darkness of space, with 98% of the atmosphere below you, so you can enjoy the curvature of the earth in the blue line. You are in the darkness of space but without the experience of weightlessness,” said Vincent Farret d’Astiès, Zephalto’s founder and aerospace engineer. told Bloomberg.
The trip would include gourmet meals both before and after during the flight, aperitifs, wine tasting, stratographic photography and the opportunity to instantly share the experience with the people of Earth via WiFi. TThe capsule currently being designed by a French architect Joseph Dirand, would have 20 square meters of interior space and accommodate six passengers and two pilots.
Zephalto’s pod, which has yet to be built, would carry six passengers and two pilots and is said to be a luxury. Photo credit: Zephalto.
Filled with helium or hydrogen, the balloon would leave France and ascend 25 km in about an hour and a half. This is about double that of commercial jets, but well below the limit of space (which is 80-100km above sea level). Once you’ve reached the highest altitude, the balloon will float for three hours, ensuring you have enough time to enjoy the view before descending back to the ground.
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While this may seem like a breath of hot air, the startup, founded in 2016, has already secured the backing of some high profile players including Airbus, Dassault, National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and European Space Agency (ESA). .
Zephalto is targeting 60 flights per year once commercial operations begin. It has already made three test flights with pilots on board, but none have reached full altitude. However, the company expects to reach the target altitude in a test flight later this year.
A prototype of Zephalto’s two-passenger space balloon successfully launched for the first time on August 21, 2020 during a test flight. Photo credit: Zephalto.
Manned high-altitude balloons are not a new idea. In 1931, the Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard climbed 16 km in a pressure capsule attached to a helium balloon and became the first person to reach the stratosphere. Since then, manned high-altitude balloons have soared to over 34 km, although the technology has never been used commercially – not yet.
spatial perspective And worldview, both based in the US, are also developing their own versions of the technology. Both plan to launch even earlier than Zephalto in 2024. Spanish startup Zero2Infinity is also developing a space balloon, although it has yet to announce a launch date. Also Japanese startup Iwaya Giken has built a much smaller capsule that it hopes will only cost tens of thousands of dollars once the company achieves economies of scale.
WPerhaps not quite as enticing as launching into real space aboard a rocket, as promised by billionaire companies SpaceX, Blue OriginAnd Virgo Galacticproponents say ballooning offers a number of benefits.
First, they are much cheaper. A Virgin Galactic flight beginS at $450,000, while a trip aboard one of SpaceX’s rockets could cost you tens of millions of dollars. Although the balloons don’t fly as high as these rockets, which average between 50 and 120 km high, they operate say They’re still flying high enough for viewers to experience the overview effect — an intense perspective shift that many astronauts say occurs when viewing Earth from above.
An image of Earth taken from an unmanned weather balloon at an altitude of 23 km, similar to where Zephalos’ space balloon will ascend. Photo credit: Forbes/University of Leicester
Moreover, despite numerous advances in recent years Rockets remain complex, expensive and unpredictable (SpaceX’s startup error this week is a prime example). Passengers must undergo extensive training and medical screening before even considering boarding. However, Zephalto says that anyone sane enough to fly on an airliner can board a space balloon.
The startup also claims that the first Celeste flight will have the lowest amount of CO2 caused by a space flight: 26.6 kg for the entire 6-hour journey, which corresponds to the carbon footprint of a pair of “jeans”. In contrast, when launched in 2016, the Space X Falcon 9 rocket sent out a whopping 116 tons of CO2 in just 165 seconds.
All of this equates to a more sustainable and accessible alternative to rocket-based space tourism.
However, Zephalto has not even completed its first commercial test flight or achieved and holds the final design for the capsule push back the start date. The startup is also vague on a number of details, including where exactly the balloons will launch or whether it has received clearance to fly from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Other startups like Worldview are taking a similar approach trend – it announced in 2013 that its space balloons would go into commercial service in 2016.
But despite the fact that the space balloon startup scene seems to be better at making promises than keeping them, Zephalto, like most of the other startups mentioned, is already taking pre-bookings. The launch could happen in two years – if everything goes according to plan.