Instead of rocket-powered sub-orbital flights like those of Virgin Galactic, could high-altitude ballooning become the most viable way of letting paying tourists experience space or at least something thrillingly close to it?
Ballooning is already tried and tested technology “It’s the origin of space travel,” explains Annelie Schoenmaker, external relations and legal officer for Zero2infinity, a Spanish company that plans to launch passengers to near space using balloons known as “Bloons” for €110,000 ($124,000) a time.
Zero2infinity is one of two organizations hoping to use pressurized capsules suspended beneath helium balloons as a way to take tourists into near space.
Flights using helium-filled balloons began in the early 1930s.
“For me this time was what I call the first space race, as it was the first time we went into the stratosphere,” explains Dr Jonathan Clark, an associate professor in neurology and space medicine.
Dr Jonathan Clark has advised on both Red Bull Stratos and StratEx the project that saw Google executive Alan Eustace make a record-breaking space dive, assisted by ballooning company World View Enterprises.
“Even the first spacesuits were tested using balloons,” adds Schoenmaker.
To this day ballooning is hugely important for space science; NASA and other commercial companies use balloons as an inexpensive means to test payloads in near-space environments.
Because balloons can spend a relatively large amount of time in the stratosphere, this “gives increased observation and experiment runs,” explains Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, which will offer near-space ballooning trips for $75,000.
High-altitude ballooning even has some high-profile fans within the space community, including veteran of four space shuttle missions, Mark Kelly, who works with World View as director of flight crew operations.
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