Test flights on tap for Space Perspective’s luxury high-altitude balloon


Enlarge / Space Perspective’s first test capsule, Excelsior, has a diameter of approximately 16 feet (4.9 meters).

Space Perspective could begin test flights of its privately owned capsule suspended under a high-altitude balloon within the next couple of months, the company’s co-founder told Ars this week.

Florida-based Space Perspective released photos of its first completed test capsule Tuesday. The company will use this pressurized capsule, called Excelsior, for a series of test flights this year over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Cape Canaveral. Taber MacCallum, Space Perspective’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said employees have also finished fabricating the giant balloon that will lift the test capsule into the upper atmosphere for the first test flight.

The final piece of the puzzle is a ship, named Marine Spaceport Voyager, that Space Perspective will use to launch the balloon and capsule. This vessel is due to depart an outfitting facility in Louisiana in the next few weeks for a trip to Port Canaveral, Florida, where Space Perspective will load aboard the capsule and balloon. Then, perhaps in four to six weeks, ground teams will be ready for the system’s first test flight, according to MacCallum.

But this is a test program, and there could be delays, MacCallum said. In the meantime, Space Perspective will start building a second capsule for human test flights.

“We’ll do a series of unmanned tests with this capsule,” he said. “In theory, we could fly people in this capsule. It’s designed that way, and it has all of the systems set up for human flight. But our planning assumes that trailing on what we learn from this capsule, we build another capsule that will be our first human flight capsule. And this will remain an unmanned test capsule.”

Soaring to the edge of “space”

These tests are a prelude to Space Perspective’s plans for regular commercial flights carrying paying customers to 100,000 feet (about 30 kilometers), roughly three times higher than the cruising altitude of a typical commercial airliner. From 100,000 feet, Space Perspective’s clients will see panoramic views of the ground and ocean far below, and the sky will be black, with the capsule flying above 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere.

Founded in 2019, Space Perspective says on its website it is “driven by a desire to share the transformative power of space travel with as many people as possible.” In reality, the company will give customers an experience similar to spaceflight, with a few significant differences.

Essentially, passengers on Space Perspective’s high-altitude balloon will get a view the company says is similar to what a passenger might see on a suborbital spacecraft from Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic. But Space Perspective’s vehicle won’t subject customers to any high G-forces or the risks of rocket flight. The balloon passengers also won’t float in microgravity. And it will max out at 30 kilometers, well short of the 80-kilometer boundary of space recognized by the US government or the 100-kilometer Kármán line.

Still, the view from 30 kilometers must be tremendous. “You’ll see essentially all of Florida,” MacCallum said. “We’re also looking at flying sort of across the southern tip of Florida, so you’d see Cuba, the Bahamas, essentially all of Florida. So amazing views.”



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