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First passenger space balloon being built in Florida

Aug 30, 2023

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WESH 2 got an exclusive look behind the scenes as the very first space balloon for passengers that’s being built right here in Central Florida. Our Space Coast Bureau Chief Scott Heidler took a tour with the Co-CEO of Space Perspective on their Titusville campus.

Imagine lifting off for a trip into space at 12 mph and with a glass of wine in your hand.

“When most people think of spaceflight, they think of high Gs and floating around. Discomfort, you’re in a small capsule – at least a lot of people do,” said Jane Poynter the Founder and Co-CEO of Space Perspective.

The company’s Spaceship Neptune is a vastly different craft and will soon be taking humans to the edge of space.

“For us, it’s this incredibly gentle flight. If you can get on a commercial airline, you can get on this. We have a bar onboard. There’s a loo. It’s a space lounge,” said Poynter.

The space tourist start-up set up shop on its own campus next to the Titusville airport.

Poynter explains why, “It is the center of where human space flight history was forged. It’s an incredible place to have on our backyard. There’s amazing local employment base here.”

Space Perspective now has 130 employees and once it gets close to taking passengers on the first flights late next year, they’ll need to scale up.

Both capsules and balloons are manufactured here, the balloons in a 700-foot-long custom facility.

“As it goes up through the atmosphere, it expands. By the time it is at altitude, it fills out the entire balloon; instead of being long and skinny, it’s more or less round. Actually, the size of a small football stadium,” explained Poynter.

Test flights with a Neptune replica start this year, and once passengers start to fly, they’ll arrive a day or two before the trip. And then, on the day of the flight, they’ll board the company’s vessel, the MS Voyager.

“Imagine, it’s all really dark out, really awesome. Beautiful stars. You’ll get into Spaceship Neptune, right on the deck of the ship,” said Poynter. “It’ll then be released from the deck and as the balloon lifts the capsule incredibly gently up to space.”

The trip up will take about two hours. “Then you’ll have roughly two hours in space to look over Florida, our incredibly beautiful earth, over the Keys, over the Bahamas. Then you will start a very gradual and slow decent; it’ll take another 2 hours,” said Poynter.

Then splashdown back in the Atlantic, after which the capsule will be picked up out of the water and placed back on the ship. Launch and splashdown will only be about 50 miles apart, this after traveling about 20 miles up.

With tickets costing more than $100,000, the passengers will come from an elite slice of the market, but the company looks to expand that over time. As they fly more flights and build more balloons, they look to open it to a larger customer base.

“Certainly, over time, we anticipate bringing the price down. Now, the truth is that the market is so vibrant, it’s going to take us a little while.”

Almost 1,200 tickets have already sold, with nearly half as complete capsule buyouts.

With big windows, the largest windows ever flown to space, “From the apogee of the flight, you are going to be able to see 450 miles in each direction,” Poynter described.

The craft and balloon have redundant safety measures, including four parachutes.

“What’s exciting is that the balloon technology itself has been flown thousands of times,” said Poynter. “And in the last couple of decades, there has not been a single failure with one of these types of balloons.”

While Florida is Space Perspective’s home, the company is looking to take it on the road down the line. So others can see their slice of the world in a new light from space, according to Poynter, “It really puts it into perspective. Seeing something that you recognize, which is also why we want to be able to fly from other parts of the world.”

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