Japanese company wants to reduce cost of balloon-powered space tourism

The company wants to "democratize space" - their rides will cost a third of other orbital space flights.
Ameya Paleja
Iwaya Giken's balloon
Iwaya Giken's balloon

Iwaya Giken, a Japanese company, is the latest entrant in the race to offer balloon-based space rides to people. The company recently opened applications for its first set of passengers who could be airborne as early as December this year.

Space tourism was quite the buzzword a couple of years ago as billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson made short journeys onboard rocket-powered space capsules owned by their companies. While there have been multiple missions ever since the list of passengers has largely been celebrities, and the journey comes at a hefty price tag.

Balloon-based space rides, though, can be achieved at much lower costs, and many startups are looking to launch their services as early as 2024 or 2025. Iwaya Giken could become the first venture in the world to do so if everything goes as planned for its flights in December this year.

Rising 15 miles above Earth

Iwaya Giken began working on balloon-based space tourism over a decade ago as part of the Open Universe Project. The project aims to "democratize space" and make it accessible to everyone.

Japanese company wants to reduce cost of balloon-powered space tourism
The company uses patented plastic balloon design

To do so, the company has developed a two-seater airtight cabin that can rise to an altitude of 15 miles (25 km) above the surface of the Earth, powered by its patented plastic balloon. Technically, this altitude is not far enough to be deemed a trip to outer space. However, it is high enough for passengers to be able to witness the curvature of the Earth.

Japanese company wants to reduce cost of balloon-powered space tourism
At 15 miles altitude, the curvature of the Earth can be seen

This is also more than commercial airplanes' altitude, and passengers will have an unobstructed view of outer space. The balloon will be lifted using helium, which, unlike rocket fuel, can be reused. The two-seater cabin is about five feet (1.5 m) wide and has several large windows to allow views of the space and Earth below.

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The ascent to the altitude is expected to take about two hours, and the passenger can stay for up to an hour before beginning the hour-long descent. Only one passenger can take this journey at a time since a pilot will occupy the other seat.

Applications for the first few flights opened last month, and the fare for the journey is estimated to be 24 million yen (~US$180,000). The company aims to bring this down to tens of thousands of dollars.

While this is exciting, it wouldn't hurt to ask for a few luxuries for a four-hour trip, much like Space Perspectives plans to offer.

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