Into Even Thinner Air
Virgin Galactic, the famous company responsible for the concept of space tourism using rocket-powered sub-orbital flights, may be in trouble. New companies trying to get in to space- tourism have a brand new idea that could pull in more clients. Could high-altitude ballooning become the most viable way of letting paying tourists experience space and the upper atmosphere?
Ballooning is already a tried and tested technology. “It’s the origin of space travel,” explains Annelie Schoenmaker, legal officer for Zero2infinity, a company in space that plans to float passengers into the sky using complex space-balloons known as “Bloons” for the approximate price of $124,000.
Zero2infinity is one of two organizations hoping to use pressurized capsules suspended beneath helium balloons as a way to take tourists into near space.
Flights using helium-filled balloons began in the early 1930s. “For me this time was what I call the first space race, as it was the first time we went into the stratosphere,” explains Dr Jonathan Clark, an advisor on both Red Bull Stratos and StratEx, the projects that saw Alan Eustace make a record-breaking space dive, assisted by ballooning company World View Enterprises.
Because balloons can spend a relatively large amount of time in the stratosphere, this “gives increased observation and experiment runs,” explains Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, which will offer near-space ballooning trips for $75,000. High-altitude ballooning even has some high-profile fans within the space community, including a veteran of four space shuttle missions, Mark Kelly, who works with World View as director of flight crew operations.
Could space-tourism become a hotly contested market? We’ll see how this market develops in the years to come. Perhaps even more forms of space travel will emerge!