Traveling is wonderful, but an eight-hour flight often equates to numb legs, a sore back, and terrible snacks. Budget airlines have ruined the experience of air travel. How about an eight-hour flight in space?
It is the promise of World Vision, a startup that plans to use a helium balloon to lift you 100,000 feet above the earth in flights that will take off from the Grand Canyon starting in 2024. For $50,000 you can enjoy the slow ascent in the atmosphere, while enjoying extraordinary views through a 5-foot-wide window that puts the view to shame from any window seat. The capsule and its interior are designed by PriestmanGoode, a British design firm known for its work on airline interiors for Airbus, Qatar Airways and United Airlines.
World View is the latest addition to the burgeoning space tourism industry, which includes of the Galactic Virgin zero-gravity airplane flights ($450,000 per seat) blue origin rocket trips (tickets still unpriced) and another space balloon contestant perspective from space, which is charging $125,000 to elevate a 360-degree viewing room into space. It’s a young market, but you can already see a line of differentiation: some companies are selling a relaxed journey to reach the edge of nature, while others promise a high-speed adventure out of Good things.
Technically, World View never reaches the true altitude of space, but it rises high enough to see the curved edges of the earth from above and to see our world from another perspective. This was the main design challenge: “What we don’t want to do as designers is go in and ruin that experience for the passenger,” says Daniel Macinnes, design director at PriestmanGoode.
Design a space capsule to celebrate the earth
While the World View balloon has been in development for nearly a decade, Macinnes and his team have been working for six months to translate this flight technology into an unparalleled travel experience. The images you see here are renders that do not yet represent the final design.
This sensation begins with the design of the capsule itself. The cabin features a hexagonal geometry optimized for pressurization, which will allow passengers to fly without a nosebleed. PriestmanGoode has worked with engineers to refine anything malleable beyond this basic shape. This includes determining the material and shape of the capsule fairings or panels on the exterior of the craft to give the capsule a unique look and improve aerodynamics.
This also affects the windows. Passengers will be free to walk around the cabin during travel, but the windows are really at the heart of the passenger experience during flight.
PriestmanGoode’s earlier design experiments featured many small, irregularly shaped windows throughout the cabin. The design reminded me of the sci-fi space fighter. The designers have since eliminated the smaller windows, placing each pair of seats in front of a single circular window. Part of the decision to have fewer windows comes down to the same issue that airlines face in every design decision they make: weight. The windows are heavy, and every ounce of weight in the capsule slows its ascent or requires the use of more helium (which is expensive and unnecessary).
However, as Macinnes explains, giving passengers a single five-foot-wide window focuses the experience on that singular view.
“We love aviation and light…but this takes us to another level. You look out the window [out of a plane] at 30,000,000 feet and it’s nice but it’s a really restricted view,” says Macinnes, referring to the 9-inch-wide window on most commercial jets. “What we try to do is make sure everyone is totally blown away… nobody has experienced this size of window on an airplane. I hope you will be flabbergasted when you look outside.
Part of this gobsmacking is balancing the distraction of that window at any given time. This means that PriestmanGoode is iterating his design, he has cut the cabin LCD screens. (Travellers will likely be handed tablets instead.) It also means that when people first enter the cabin, a unique lighting array will create a “bright, blow your socks off” feeling to climb up to. edge, according to Macinnes. But shortly after boarding, the lighting will disappear. “We want it to be dramatic when you walk in, but then fade away, enhancing visual enjoyment when looking out the window,” Macinnes says.
Build a high-end cabin
As for the rest of the cabin experience, it’s a careful ratio of swanky amenities and weight restrictions, a balance that causes weekly iterations on the designs you see here.
So there will be compromises. The main cabin itself will be fairly minimal, shaving off the plating to keep weight low. But the capsule will include what Macinnes promises is a reasonably sized bathroom, with hotel-level fit and finish (and yes, a window so you don’t miss the view when you have to go). PriestmanGoode also strives to perfect the capsule’s seats, which, like airplane seats, must be comfortable for an entire day in a seated position, but must also function with as few heavy components as possible. That means no one knows yet if the chairs will rotate 360 degrees, or have motorized assistance, or even what materials they’ll be made of. But given that World View imagines you could use the capsule, not just for a flight, but for team building workshops or even weddings, they recognize that the seats need to be more flexible than what we see here.
When it comes to food and beverage, World View will have an onboard concierge to help manage these components of the passenger experience. But weight and space restrictions are so great that World View designers are currently working with World View chefs to determine exactly what types of food can be served in the capsule, in order to plan the equipment needed for the preparation and consumption. Given the high price of a ticket, World View wants its culinary bar to be more like the amuse-bouche of a Michelin restaurant than a $12 coach-class protein box.
“It really is a spaceship,” Macinnes says. “It needs to be as light as possible to reach this type of altitude, but we don’t want to skimp on the luxury the customer would expect.”