Tucson, Arizona-based firm World View Enterprises wants to cut the cost of space tourism by sending people up to the stratosphere in a capsule lifted by a massive balloon, a press statement from the company reveals.
Though space tourism is simply too expensive for the vast majority of humans, progress is slowly being made towards making space more accessible. Just yesterday, Oct. 5, for example, the first film crew to ever film in space was launched up to the International Space Station (ISS). Only a month ago, SpaceX's Inspiration 4 mission was the first orbital all-civilian operation to go to space. That launch cost $200 million, less than Virgin Galactic's and Blue Origin's first suborbital space tourism launches, which cost $250 and $450 million respectively.
The next step, perhaps, in the evolution of space accessibility is the stratospheric balloon ride. Several companies, including Florida-based Space Perspective and Barcelona-based Zero 2 Infinity, have conducted preliminary tests aimed at eventually sending humans on a ride into the stratosphere. World View Enterprise's new offering will come at a fraction of the price of rocket and spaceplane operations, and will even be cheaper than the companies mentioned above, both of which aim to offer stratospheric balloon rides for over $100,000.
Gradually opening space up to the masses
Much like other space tourism firms, Space View's aim is to allow civilians to experience the mind-altering Overview Effect. In its statement, the company says "World View's mission is to bring as many people as possible to the edge of space so that at 100,000 feet (~30 km), they’ll see a world without borders or species and come back driven to make the world a better place. The company believes that by reaching a critical mass of people experiencing what has been labeled the Overview Effect that humanity will be able to markedly improve the future of our fragile Earth."
Unlike space tourism trips on a rocket, passengers will gently and gradually lift up into the stratosphere. The company lists several locations from which it aims to lift off, including the Grand Canyon and Norway, where passengers will be afforded a close-up view of the Aurora Borealis.
Though World View's balloon won't technically reach space — some define the start of space as the Kármán line at 330,000 feet (100 km) and others don't — it will reach altitudes that will allow passengers to see the Earth's curvature and the dark expanse of space. What's more, the company plans to charge $50,000 per passenger, which is "noticeably lower than any other civilian space tourism flight available today," the firm says. Trips will also last between six and 12 hours, compared to less than half an hour in space in the case of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
World View says its first commercial flights are expected to take place in early 2024, though first, it must obtain FAA certification. The company adds that it will provide flexible financing options for those who wish to see space at least once in their lifetime. If all goes to plan, a trip to space – the edge of it at least — might soon cost the price of a car instead of a superyacht.