Unlike recent civilian developments in space – the race of billionaires powered by rockets and outfitted in designer spacesuits – there is another method now in development that would be easier on the body, allow more time to admire the view and would cost less than the millions needed to climb to the top of the rockets. The company Space Perspective is developing a balloon-powered spacecraft called Neptune One that will hover up to 20 miles above the Earth’s surface in a six-hour journey – two hours each for ascent, descent and time in the space.
If that sounds like a dodgy experiment (can the ball be strong enough for that?), the company founders seem to have the experience to back up the project. Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, husband and wife, have amassed many accomplishments in space innovation and exploration over the past 20 years. Among them: As founders of Paragon Space Developers Corporation, they perfected technologies for spacecraft, including the International Space Station, and advised Elon Musk on human spaceflight requirements before SpaceX. They also led the StratEx (Stratospheric Exploration) team that invented an autonomous spacesuit and retrieval program that could enable human exploration of the stratosphere at 100,000 feet leading to Alan Eustace, a senior Google engineer, establishing the world record for human spaceflight powered by a SpaceBalloon at 136,000 feet. More recently, the couple were behind balloon technology company World View Enterprises which developed communications and remote sensing.
Along with the technology needed to ascend and descend at a smooth, G-free 12 miles per hour, the focus according to Poynter is the luxury and comfort of the Space Lounge capsule. “Our mission is to inspire space explorers to connect more closely with our planet and with each other, and the environment they travel with us is central to that. Our Space Lounge is a world away from the environments white and utilitarian that you find in other spaceships. It offers travelers the opportunity to take phenomenal photos, be educated through our expert pilot and interactive content, enjoy unique dining experiences and, of course, just soaking up the view,” she explains.
The lounge will be spacious at 200 square feet, allowing the maximum of eight passengers to stretch out freely and move around without being cramped with 360-degree windows measuring 1.84 feet wide and five feet high providing a view of 450 miles in each direction. The seats will be deep recliners that can be reconfigured for a dinner party or special event if only two seats are needed; Customizable mood lighting and decorative touches such as plants and herbs that will also be used in food and drink preparation are also part of the design.
If all procedures and testing go as planned, liftoff is scheduled for late 2024 at Space Coast Air and Spaceport, located next to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with ocean splashdown and passengers picked up by ship. Future plans include liftoffs from multiple points around the world to provide different views from space. But even though reservations are open now, the earliest availability is in 2025; the first year – 600 places – is already sold out.