Hawaii is among the planned launch locations

A new human spaceflight startup has revealed its plans to launch suborbital space tours for the public in less than five years. The Space Perspective, billed as “the off-world travel company,” held a press event on June 18 outlining a space-balloon flight that would loft passengers to about 100,000 feet aboard a pressurized capsule. Though the anticipated altitude is short of the commonly recognized boundary with space, the flight would be high enough to see the curvature of Earth and the blackness of space.

An artist rendering shows Spaceship Neptune rising off the coast of Florida where the company’s first operational flight center has been established at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Space Perspective

One of the company’s goals is to shift human perspectives on Earth and the cosmos through “the overview effect”—a phenomenon reported by astronauts who experience a change in consciousness after seeing the Earth from space.
“We’re committed to fundamentally changing the way people have access to space, both to perform much-needed research to benefit life on Earth and to affect how we view and connect with our planet,” Space Perspective Co-founder Jane Poynter said in a statement.

On a tour, eight passengers and a pilot would would be carried skyward by a massive space balloon roughly the size of a football stadium. The capsule, called Spaceship Neptune (a nod to the far-flung planet’s mostly hydrogen and helium atmosphere), would offer rarely glimpsed views of Earth and space, comfortable seating, a mini-bar and lavatory. The total flight time would be about six hours.

The company has already established an operations center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and plans to launch from the old Space Shuttle runway. Additional launches are planned from Cecil Spaceport in Florida, in Hawaii and Alaska, and other locations around the world, according to the company’s website.

Passengers capture photos of Earth from inside the Neptune capsule. Credits: Space Perspective

In addition to tours, Space Perspective also plans to offer opportunities for scientific experiments by researchers, students and educators. At 19 miles off the ground, atmospheric pressure is almost zero, providing a near-vacuum environment to do research related to the atmosphere, solar physics and other natural sciences. Space Perspective’s first test flights are planned during the first quarter of next year with crewed flights beginning in 2023. The first commercial flights are expected by 2024.

The company’s founders, Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, were crew members of Biosphere 2 in the early 1990s. In 2013, they founded World View with a mission similar to Space Perspective using high-altitude balloons. Though tours never got off the ground, scientific experiments did. Poynter and MacCallum are now revisiting their original vision through Space Perspective. Their staff have led, designed and/or operated all the human suborbital balloon flights staged in the last five decades, according to the company’s website.