A company that plans to send passengers to the edge of space in a pressurized vehicle beneath a large balloon said Wednesday it is on track to fly a demonstration mission next year and has raised the funds needed to accomplish this.
Space Perspective, which is based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, announced it has raised $7 million in seed funding in a round of funding 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 pressurized Spaceship Neptune vehicle.
Inside this Neptune craft, a pilot and eight passengers will spend about two hours ascending to 30km, above 99 percent of the atmosphere. From this vantage point, beneath a balloon with the diameter of a US football field, the passengers would spend about two hours experiencing the view and “Earth overview” effect. Neptune would then take about two hours descending back to Earth. Envisioned to be nearly 5 meters across, the reusable Neptune is designed to fly as much as once per week. Only the parachute is discarded after each flight.
Not quite to space
The company plans to start 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 not set a final price, but tickets would likely cost on the order of $125,000 per passenger. This is less than half of what Virgin Galactic is charging for its short, suborbital flight to 80km, and likely significantly less than what Blue Origin plans to ask for rides in its New Shepard vehicle, which will take customers above 100km for a few minutes.
By contrast, Space Perspective will not take customers into “space,” nor provide them with a period of weightlessness. However, the company’s flight profile will deliver an extended six-hour ride. Poynter said this extended period of time separates her company from other space tourism ventures. “It affords 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 summiting Mount Everest or taking 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 noted motivational speaker. “My life is dedicated to delivering people extraordinary experiences that expand human consciousness,” he said. “I always say a belief is a poor substitute for an experience. Space Perspective will deliver a life changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are part of a human family sharing this remarkable planet.”
Probably the biggest question is whether the company can overcome technical hurdles. If this idea sounds familiar, Poynter and Taber MacCallum—the company’s other co-founder—were also involved in the development of World View nearly five years ago. That company sought to take six passengers to 30km in a pressurized cabin.
Along the way, World View opted to pursue the concept of “stratollites,” which were small, balloon-lofted vehicles designed to carry about 100kg into the stratosphere and then “keep station” for weeks or days at a time. Poynter said this remote-sensing market was too good not to pursue, and it became all-consuming for World View. She and MacCallum preferred to focus on human flight and started the new company.
Technically, she said, the idea of lofting humans to the edge of space is not overly difficult, because the balloon technology is decades old. With the test flight planned for the first half of 2021, Space Perspective will loft an unpressurized vehicle sized like Neptune along its planned flight profile. The objective is to validate the company’s modeling of the balloon and vehicle performance through the atmosphere with actual hardware.
After this test, Space Perspective will proceed with final design and construction of the first Neptune vehicle, she said. Poynter declined to say how much funding the company will require to make it through to the first flight, but she said it would be substantially less than Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have spent on their launch vehicles and spacecraft.
“Rest assured it is a heck of a lot less than any other companies you’ve heard about taking people to space,” she said. “Orders of magnitude.”
Listing image by Space Perspective