Space balloon startup to offer first flights by 2025

French space balloon startup Zephalto is partnering with the French space agency to bring customers to the edge of space for 'just' $132,000.
John Loeffler
A Zephatlo balloon at the edge of space
A Zephatlo balloon at the edge of space


The space tourism industry is getting a lot of attention lately thanks to the likes of Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, but they aren't the only ones getting in on the act. French space balloon startup Zephalto has opened up reservations for flights to the stratosphere, starting at just $132,000 per ticket.

The six-hour ride, which is currently set to take off from France, has the imprimatur of France's space agency, according to a report in Bloomberg. For now, the plan is for six passengers to ride in a capsule underneath the hydrogen-and-helium-filled balloon for about 90 minutes to an altitude of about 15.5 miles (25km, or about three times higher than commercial air traffic), where they will hover and take in the sights for about three hours. Then, they will decent another 90 minutes to return to the surface.

This is a much lower altitude than either Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic flights in recent years, a heated contest that has been dubbed the billionaire space race by critics, with Blue Origin pointedly noting that it actually takes its passengers past the Karman line, the most widely used international measure for the beginning of outer space (an altitude of 62 miles, for the curious).

At just 25% of that distance, the "space" balloons of Zephalto aren't going to be reaching the extreme heights of Bezos or Branson, but Zephalto founder Vincent Farret d’Astiès argues that this altitude offers sights only a tiny fraction of humanity has ever seen.

"We choose 25 kilometers high because it’s the altitude where you are in the darkness of space, with 98% of the atmosphere below you, so you can enjoy the curvature of the Earth in the blue line," he told Bloomberg. "You’re in the darkness of space, but without the zero gravity experience."

For this though, you actually have a more affordable experience, with a Virgin Galactic ticket past the 50-mile marker NASA uses to define the start of outer space selling for $450,000, and a Blue Origin flight cost being a well-kept secret, but according to Spaceflight Now might be going for $1.25 million a ticket at a minimum.

Zephalto plans to launch 60 trips per year once everything is fully operational.

At least it's not another rocket

If nothing else, the environmental impact of a Zephalto flight should be substantially less. Emissions from rocket launches are no joke, with a substantial amount of rocket fuel burning up into dangerous exhaust in the atmosphere. This is especially true with rocket stages that burn in the stratosphere, as this much thinner part of the atmosphere is more sensitive to the impact of carbon emissions.

A balloon has its own environmental impact, including sourcing increasingly scarce helium for use in the balloon, but according to the company, a flight on a Zephalto balloon will only produce 26.6kg of CO2, in total. Other stats of note are the 20 square meters inside the passenger capsule, more than enough for its six passengers to move around and enjoy the seven square meters of window space, offering an unparalleled view of the curvature of the Earth.

There will also be other luxury amenities on board, but clearly the draw will be viewing the vast expanse beyond our planet and the perspective that seeing our world in that void alone can provide, something that has been known to deeply affect those who experience it first-hand.

Is that kind of perspective worth $132,000? Who's to say, but flights are set to begin in 2025, and there's no shortage of wealthy patrons who will surely jump at the chance to experience it for themselves.

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