The race for dominating the futuristic “space tourism” market is seeing some serious competition. While Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have already made news, another company called Space Perspective has also thrown its hat in the ring.
Around the world, space agencies and companies have already been using space balloons to carry robots, telescopes, and other research-related equipment to space. Space Perspective’s Neptune One is an advanced space balloon. It has been designed to carry the passenger capsule in space using hydrogen gas.
Neptune’s space balloon is distinct from heavy space rockets that big aerospace companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin use. It is much more lightweight and does not cause any harmful emissions.
It is divided into three main parts: a large flying space balloon that is powered by the same technology that NASA uses in its stratospheric balloons, a pressurized space capsule that will carry passengers and allow them to have a 360-degree panoramic view of the space from the inside, and a descent system with a reserve backup parachute for a safe landing.
Space Perspective plans to begin commercial operations by the end of 2024. The aerospace firm on June 18 launched its first test flight from the Space Coast Spaceport in Florida. This facility is located next door to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Space Perspective representatives said that the unmanned test flight used a full-size Neptune One (formerly Spaceship Neptune) simulator. The flight lasted a total of six hours and 39 minutes. In this time, the balloon managed to reach a maximum altitude of 33,043 meters before splashing down (per plan) in the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 kilometers from Florida’s west coast.
Coming Soon: A Space Odyssey
Florida-based Space Perspective has already begun accepting seat reservations for its balloon-borne pressurized capsule that has been designed to carry eight passengers and one pilot to a height of 30,000 meters. The price per seat in Neptune One is $125,000. This is a much lower rate compared to what the other players are offering.
Passengers onboard Neptune One balloon will spend about six hours in the capsule during their flight. The flight itself will take them above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere. Our planet will be visible against the blackness of space to the customers availing the flight.
The experience will be low-impact and relatively luxurious, Space Perspective representatives claim. The ascent is gentle, devoid of the high G-forces associated with rocket launches, due to the capsule being lofted by a giant balloon.
Apart from featuring reclining seats, panoramic windows, a refreshments bar, and a bathroom, the company website highlights that the Neptune capsule will also have communication devices, personal cabinets, Wi-Fi, and other necessary amenities.
Ahead Of The Competition?
Neptune One’s spaceflight is set to launch in early 2024 and all the seats and slots for that year are already booked. So far, Space Perspective has sold out a total of 450 seats. It is now accepting reservations only for the year 2025.
Meanwhile, competitors Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — billionaires who have already travelled to space themselves — are yet to announce the dates for their companies’ fully commercialized spaceflights. These companies are offering much shorter rides at much higher altitudes.
SpaceX Inspiration4, which has successfully completed a three-day all civilian space mission recently, has put Elon Musk a little ahead of the others in the race. During this flight, the SpaceX vehicle went 585 km up in space – the farthest distance traversed by a human spaceflight mission since the pioneering Apollo space program.
Despite this, Space Perspective also beats Elon Musk in one area – the ticket prices. The four passengers on board the SpaceX Inspiration4 are rumoured to have paid about $55 million each for their own little space saga.
This price tag is humongous compared to Space Perspective’s $125,000 per passenger fare. Virgin Galactic, on the other hand, recently said that each seat on their VSS Unity space rocket would cost $450,000.
Ticket rates for Bezos’ Blue Origin are not yet known, but the company has previously charged $28 million for a seat on its first crew flight that was launched in July 2021, according to Interesting Engineering.