An interstellar exploration company wants to build a space vessel that takes the uberwealthy cruising high up in the earth’s atmosphere — and Mercedes-Maybach is lending its luxury brand name to make it happen.
A space balloon will lift Neptune 100,000 feet into the upper stratosphere, where guests can witness the earth’s curvature.
Space Perspectives execs have helped to send others up via balloon before — Google exec Alan Eustace broke the record for the highest skydive in 2014 off a capsule carried by a balloon with the help of Space Perspective’s current CEOs, who aim to make theirs the first company to have a crew both ascend and descend by balloon.
But this vessel isn’t meant to be like any other capsule sent to space — Mercedes-Maybach will lend its electric cars to the company to take guests to and from its spaceports, one of which will be a ship called the MS Voyager. The legendary brand will also design the spaceship’s interior.
The company was founded by Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, aerospace executives.
The pair became famous after participating in the two-year Biosphere 2 experiment nearly 30 years ago, which aimed to prove whether or not humans could sustain themselves on other planets. The experiment was a failure because there wasn’t enough food, air or water for eight people in the structure.
Since then, the two have accumulated years of experience in the aerospace startup world. The pair founded Paragon, which created “technologies now on every human spacecraft orbiting the planet,” Poynter told Insider.
The Space Perspective team includes personnel who designed and manufactured space balloons for NASA and former Space X engineers.
The company announced in 2020 its goal to transport passengers, Insider previously reported.
Unlike many traditional space vessels, rockets will not be used.
Spaceship Neptune will not use rockets.
Instead, a thin, plastic balloon filled with hydrogen gas, and attached to the cabin will gradually take guests up 100,000 feet, float for two hours, and then descend by slowly releasing the gas.
The company said it uses hydrogen — a highly flammable gas — because of helium shortages. Still, it said it was “demonstrated to be a safe gas for use in balloons” and pointed out that other industries are increasingly using hydrogen.
Per Space Perspective’s website, if the balloon happens to be damaged, it will descend slowly to the ground. A backup parachute is available.
The current prototype capsule weighs over 14,000 pounds, and the Spaceship Neptune will be heavier, Poynter said. The company has also tested zero-pressure balloons to carry much heavier payloads — weighing over 22,000 pounds — than the Spaceship Neptune.
“We designed the Spaceship Neptune to have a capsule that was well within the normal range of what these balloons carry,” Poynter told Insider.
The first commercial flights are planned for 2024.
Poynter told Insider that only unmanned tests with a lighter prototype have been launched so far, mainly to test the accuracy of the flight trajectory.
The actual capsule, which is capable of carrying 9 people, is nearly complete. It will also undergo unmanned tests with steel by the end of this year to simulate what the weight will be like with passengers onboard.
If everything goes as planned, tests with a crew will begin in early 2024.
“I will be on one of those flights because I’m not going to let the public go on it until I’ve been on it,” Poynter said. “And then we’ll be ready for commercial operation. So it’s very exciting.”
The goal is to get passengers into the capsule by 2024, but Poynter said that would not happen until they passed safety standards set internally and with the FAA.
Each trip will take eight people and a pilot near the edge of space and cost $125,000 per person.
So far, 1,650 people have purchased $125,000 tickets with the company to explore the upper echelons of Earth’s atmosphere.
Special training for passengers will not be required, Space Perspective said. Signing forms and wearing safety belts is all that’s required.
The experience is meant to be extravagant and cater to people with money to spend on risk-taking adventures.
The Christmas-ornament-shaped cabin is built with a space toilet, and meals and cocktails will be served during the flight, per Space Perspectives. The company is also looking to implement design elements from the Mercedes-Maybach suite of luxury vehicles.
“There’s a lot that goes on in people’s minds when they think about how we fly to space,” Poynter said. “We wanted to completely reimagine this for people… But what was also really important to us was that we designed the interior to be something that is also really accessible, and approachable. So it’s a space lounge.”
Mercedes-Maybach did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
The company also said Spaceship Neptune is built with the ‘largest windows ever flown to space.’
These oversized windows presented an engineering challenge for the team, Poynter said, but they believe the workaround — a special film covering that Poynter could not disclose — is worth it.
“These huge windows are an incredible benefit for our customers because they get to look out at the world.”
The company will launch and receive its flights from a ship known as the MS Voyager.
Per Space Perspective, the mobile launch site is ideal because it allows crews to move and avoid inclement weather conditions.
The Spaceship Neptune will also return to the ship after landing in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, where crews in speedboats will rush to collect the ship and its passengers.
Poynter told Insider that previous tests of the prototype vessel have resulted in a reasonably accurate flight path, meaning that the capsule lands near the MS Voyager.
The six-hour adventure will be carbon neutral, from the vehicle that transports guests to the ship to the flight itself, the company said in a press release.
A wide range of industries are interested in the high-altitude ballon’s potential.
The US military is also looking to use these cheap, simple balloons for quick intelligence gathering and surveillance, among other capabilities, said Wes Rumbaugh, Associate Fellow, Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I believe that these balloons are supplemental capabilities,” Rumbaugh said to Insider. “It kind of fits a nice middle point between the very expensive and exquisite satellites that the US deploys in space and the various aircraft systems that the United States deploys for a lot of these missions.”
Because there are so many balloons in the sky, Rumbaugh said there would probably be regulations set in place between the FAA and the Department of Defense regarding this airspace, but he did not see the DOD and the space tourism industry having to compete for air space in any way.
In fact, Rumbaugh said, there might be potential for collaboration between the two industries to better understand the travel paths of these balloons.
“If there are any developments in steering or predictability of wind currents, that would be a potential area where DOD and the civilian organizations could collaborate.”
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