Researchers, armchair astronauts, and even brides and grooms looking for an out-of-this-world wedding experience will be able to celebrate, collect data or simply enjoy the view from an altitude of 100,000 feet in a balloon-borne pressurized cabin, complete with a bar and a restroom, a space startup announced Thursday.
Spaceship Neptune, operated by a company called Space Perspective from leased facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will carry eight passengers at a time on six-hour flights. The passenger cabin, lifted by a huge hydrogen-filled balloon, will climb at a sedate 12 mph to an altitude of about 30 miles high. That will be followed by a slow descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean where a recovery ship will be standing by to secure the cabin and crew.
Test flights carrying scientific research payloads are expected to begin in 2021. The first flights carrying passengers are expected within the next three-and-a-half years or so, with piloted test flights before that.
While the company initially will operate out of the Florida spaceport, the system could be launched from multiple sites around the world, with Hawaii and Alaska near-term possibilities.
Ticket prices for crewed flights have not yet been set, but company officials said Thursday the initial cost will probably be in the neighborhood of $125,000 per passenger. That’s about half what space tourists can expect to pay for sub-orbital flights aboard rocket-powered spaceplanes like those being developed by Virgin Galactic, which are designed to reach altitudes of more than 50 miles.
Neptune passengers will enjoy two hours at peak altitude, taking in the view through large, wrap-around windows.
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 Space Perspective founder and co-CEO Taber MacCallum.
Space Perspective has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA and the company has arranged to lease a facility at the 3-mile-long runway once used by returning space shuttles. Neptune flights will be regulated by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Spaceflight.
Space Perspective is bringing a fundamentally new capability to the Cape, which will enhance the offering we have in Florida for space-related research and tourism, Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said in a statement. Its presence here in Florida creates not just job and supply chain opportunities, but opportunities for civilian astronauts to experience this planet Earth from the edge of space, a privilege previously available to only a few.