A company wants to use an advanced balloon to fly customers from Earth’s surface in Alaska to the highest reaches of the planet’s atmosphere.
Florida-based startup firm Space Perspective plans to use the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, an island off the Alaskan coast, to serve as one of the launch sites for the vehicle, called the Spaceship Neptune.
The balloon rides will be piloted by a flight crew taking eight passengers in a pressurised capsule suspended beneath a hydrogen balloon the size of a football stadium.
Each passenger could pay an estimated $125,000 (£100,000) for a six-hour journey.
© Space Perspective
Mark Lester, CEO of Alaska Aerospace, said the high-altitude rides will be available from Kodiak in a few years and will support Alaska tourism.
“You will have people from around the world who want to come to Alaska and see the northern lights from the edge of space,” Lester said.
Alaska Aerospace and Space Perspective will test and refine spaceport operations and secure spaceflight licences from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Space Perspective plans to complete an unmanned test flight from the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida next year.
Passengers will begin with a two-hour ascent to about 30km above the Earth. They will then be able to post on social media about the experience or send data.
© Space Perspective
“Neptune then makes a two-hour descent under the balloon and splashes down, where a ship retrieves the passengers,” along with the capsule and balloon, Alaska Aerospace said.
Capsule recovery would occur in the waters around Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Island chain in the south west of the US state, depending upon the seasonal wind patterns.
The balloon design is derived from technology NASA has used for decades to fly large research telescopes, Space Perspective said.
Reader Q&A: Would helium balloons float upwards on a spaceship?
Asked by: Ant Jenvey, Reading
There is no ‘up’ on a spaceship, because there is no external gravitational field to tell us which is ‘down’. In the absence of gravity there is no force to push or pull the balloons.
Helium balloons only float up in the Earth’s atmosphere because the volume of air that they displace is heavier, and is pulled downwards more strongly, effectively pushing the balloon up and out of the way.