Wealthy and intrepid travellers are being offered the chance to ascend 20 miles above the surface of the earth attached to a balloon.
For $75,000 (£45,000) – less than a third of what it costs to secure a place on one of Virgin Galactic’s proposed space flights – passengers will be provided with similar views to those seen by Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver who leapt back to Earth from 24 miles up.
Up to eight passengers will board a capsule, attached to a high altitude balloon. It will ultimately detach from the balloon and float back to Earth by parachute. They will spend around two hours floating at peak altitude, and will be able to share their experience with friends and family thanks to on board internet access.
World View’s “Voyager” experience was announced last October, but tickets did not go on sale until this week. A $5,000 (£2,987) deposit is required to secure a reservation, with the inaugural flight planned for 2016.
“A luxury experience from launch to landing with the same ease as traveling via commercial airline, Voyagers will board a stylish, fully pressurized space capsule for a gentle ascent to 20 miles above Earth,” the Arizona-based company said in a statement. “Passengers will marvel at Earth in all its glory, seeing the world in a way that only astronauts have – suspended against the backdrop of a vast, black and infinite universe.”
Jane Poynter, president of World View, offered some reassurances to nervous fliers back in October. "There are balloons this size that have already flown up many, many times for decades," she told Telegraph Travel. "From a technical point of view this is incredibly doable, low risk."
Although the capsule will not actually reach “space” – which is commonly said to begin at the Kármán line, around 60 miles from Earth - the Federal Aviation Administration, the US equivalent of the Civil Aviation Authority, has classified it as a spacecraft, according to the company.
It is the latest in a series of “space tourism” projects.
Virgin Galactic, created by Sir Richard Branson, aims to begin flights to the edge of space in 2014. It has already sold nearly 650 tickets, with prices rising from an original $200,000 (£124,000) per person to $250,000 (£155,000). It hopes to take passengers beyond the Kármán line. They will, according to the firm, experience approximately six minutes of weightlessness during what will be a two-hour flight.
This week Sir Richard said he would be "very disappointed" if Virgin Galatic's first flight didn't happen this year.
Meanwhile, Xcor Aerospace is developing a Lynx spacecraft which it says will take passengers on a half-hour suborbital flight to the edge of space and back. A ticket aboard Lynx Mark I is $95,000 (£56,753) per flight and Lynx Mark II is $100,000 (£59,740) per flight, including medical screening and G-Force training at one of its operating locations.
Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, May 15, 2014
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