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Hot air balloons the latest space tourism big idea

Nov. 4, 2013, Washington, D.C. - The latest space tourism venture depends more on hot air than rocket science.


November 4, 2013
By The Montreal Gazette

World View Enterprises announced plans recently to send people up in a
capsule, lifted 30 kilometres by a high-altitude balloon. Jane Poynter,
CEO of the Tucson, Ariz.-based company, said the price for the
four-hour ride would be $75,000.

 

While it's not quite space — that starts at 100 kilometres — the plan
requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which
oversees commercial space.

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Poynter said the plan uses existing technology and the first launch could be as early as the end of 2016.

 

"There are balloons this size that have already flown up many, many
times for decades," Poynter said. "From a technical point of view this
is incredibly doable, low risk."

 

The selling point is the view of the Earth and seeing its curve, she
said. The venture isn't designed for passengers to experience
weightlessness.

 

The flight would take 90 minutes to go up at about 300 metres a
minute, set sail up high for 2 hours with an emphasis on smooth riding,
and then come back down in 40 minutes, Poynter said. The capsule's
interior will be roomy enough for its eight passengers to walk around.

 

Outside space expert Scott Pace, a former NASA associate
administrator now space policy director at George Washington University,
agreed that this is technically feasible. He said the issue is whether
there's enough of a market for it to be financially doable, calling it
"an interesting market test."

 

Pace said the while there are many space tourism ventures, it is not
quite right to call the field growing. It is still embryonic. A few
people have paid tens of millions of dollars to fly to the International
Space Station and others have paid to fly in high altitude jets. But
how many people will pay for near space experiences, he asked.

 

Poynter said she has no doubt that there's a market with other firms
like Virgin Galactic selling so many tickets for yet-to-fly rides.

 

"Space tourism is here to stay," said Poynter, who also runs the space firm Paragon Space Development Corporation.

 

She and her husband earlier this year proposed a private venture to send a married couple to Mars in 2018.