By Tim Bradner
A new space tourism startup plans to lift tourists to 100,000 feet over Kodiak Island, to at least the edge of space, using large, hydrogen-filled space balloons.
Space Perspective has signed an agreement with Alaska Aerospace Corp. to explore use the state corporation’s Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak to launch the balloons. If the Federal Aviation Administration gives the okay the first ascents could happen in 2021, said Jane Poynter, co-founder and Co-CEO of Space Perspective.
“Looking down on Kodiak Island and over Alaska will be a breathtaking view from our Neptune Spaceship, and I look forward to showing our Explorers the aurora borealis from that vantage,” Poynter said.
Her partner is Taber MacCallum, also a co-founder of Space Perspective.
Ticket prices haven’t been set yet, but they won’t be cheap. Poynter said in interviews that they might be half of what the $250,000 seat price Virgin Galactic is advertising for its proposed suborbital tourism flights.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has given his support to the idea.
“No doubt seeing the curvature of our planet changes your perspective on life, and experiencing the aurora from the edge of space will be beyond compare,” Dunleavy said in a letter to Space Perspective.
Space Perspective’s flights will take up to eight passengers and crew in a capsule under a large space balloon, Space Perspective said in a press release. The vehicle, called Neptune Spaceship, is the only near-zero emissions way to travel to the edge of space.
Mark Lester, CEO of Alaska Aerospace added, said the state aerospace corporation is pleased to add Space Perspective to the list of spaceport customers at the Pacific Spaceport complex.
“Conducting space tourism trips is an exciting opportunity for Kodiak and Alaska,” he said. Space Perspective is AAC’s first human spaceflight customer and balloon- based launch operator. Historically, activities at the Kodiak launch site have involved vertical launch vehicles for orbital and suborbital flights.
“Alaska Aerospace will work with Space Perspective to secure appropriate spaceflight licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, test systems, and refine spaceport operations to ensure safe and efficient operations,” Alaska Aerospace said in a statement released Thursday.
The FAA would regulate the balloon flights like a spacecraft through the FAA’s Office of Commercial Spaceflight.
Space Perspective’s Neptune capsule will cruise at the edge of space at over 100,000 feet for about two hours. Passengers wouldn’t experience weightlessness – true space begins at about 50 miles up – but they would be above 99 percent of the earth’s atmosphere. At 100,000 feet the capsule would be at an altitude of about 19 miles.
To get to the stratosphere, customers would ride inside the spherical white Neptune capsule, with wide glass windows providing a clear view of the. The balloon would ascend at pace of 12 miles per hour. Eight passengers would be accompanied by a pilot, according to the company. The entire flight is meant to last about six hours. A bar and a bathroom will be situated in capsule, and there will be a Wi-Fi connection back to earth.
Satellite links would allow for communication with ground control and also allow passengers to post photos from the sky, Poynter said in the interview. The company will provide opportunities for special events, too, such as weddings.
“For special events where we really want to livestream something from the Neptune, we will have a swankier communication system that will be able to do really high resolution, broadband live streaming,” Poynter said.
Post-flight capsule recovery will be conducted by a dedicated ship prepositioned in the waters around Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands region depending upon the seasonal wind patterns, Space Perspective said.
The company plans to do test flights with the capsule and balloon from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and to test the “splashdown” landing and recovery in nearby Atlantic Ocean waters.