Your next holiday destination: Near-space
Space tourism just got a major fillip this week after high-altitude balloon specialist zero2infinity unveiled their final pressurised pod design. That was among the last steps in the project, conceived by the Spanish firm headed by MIT-alumni space engineer Jose-Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, that aims to send tourists up to a height of 36km over the earth’s surface.
Back in 2011, Zero2infinity, unveiled plans to introduce the world’s first balloon-powered space voyages. Since then, they have successfully experimented with unmanned missions using the helium-powered 96-metre tall balloon.
This week the company unveiled the final design of the ‘Bloon’ pod, the pressurised capsule that can take two pilots and four passengers, to near space and back.
Sure, these voyages are nowhere close to the Virgin Galactic space tourism flights that will go up to a height of 110km over the earth – the height above the earth which is officially classified as space – but the zero2infinity missions are safer and more convenient.
The zero2infinity balloons are powered by helium, with no rocket-engine propulsion system to lift off. The process for prepping for a flight on the zero2infinity pods is as convenient as getting prepped for a regular commercial flight – you don’t need to kit up in space suits and you won’t have to worry about weightlessness, as weightlessness isn’t felt at the maximum gliding height of this mission. That height though is enough for the four passengers to view the curvature of the earth and the black space beyond it through the panoramic windows on the pod.
When it’s time to descend, a few hours later, the balloon will detach from the pod and a parachute will deploy allowing it to float back to the earth. The pod will be navigated to the landing site by the two pilots on board, who will deploy eight airbags surrounding the pod just before landing to cushion the impact.
The first commercial flights are expected to begin next year and will cost around $150,000 per person. Summer vacations 2018 sorted.