The space tourism industry has suddenly boomed, with a slew of commercial space companies including SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin having already completed their first flights. But those flights have come at a significant cost — upwards of $250,000 per seat, not something that’s accessible to most.
World View, a company that makes stratospheric balloons, hopes it can offer flights for just $50,000 a seat. The company manufactures stratospheric balloons for uses in research and education, and thinks that the technology will make it much cheaper to send people up into space. A big part of the cost of space transport today is simply the fuel needed to push against gravity’s strong force trying to keep us on the ground.
Space race — Technically the stratosphere is not space, but passengers would nonetheless feel pretty much like they’re in the stars. This has been a point of contention for other companies involved, however — when Virgin Galactic took passengers up, Blue Origin responded with a snarky tweet disputing that the elevation they reached was actually considered to be outside Earth’s atmosphere.
In marketing its product, World View says it wants to give passengers and experience of connecting with the Earth. What that means in practice is that flights would take off from one of the seven wonder’s of the world, offering a unique view as the vessel floats above it.
Still too much — That all sounds interesting, but at $50,000 it’s still an extravagance reserved for the wealthy. The entire experience would last 6-12 hours, with food and drinks served onboard.
World View hopes to have a prototype of its vessel ready in the next few months, with testing in 2022 and the first commercial flights commencing in 2023.
A lot of these companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have been criticized for spending money on space when there’s so much that needs to be fixed back on Earth. They at least have greater ambitions than simply letting rich people look down from above. These tourist-focused flights could provide further revenue as they develop vehicles that reach further into space and potentially enable commercial space travel businesses to expand onto other planets, something Bezos, Musk, and others have said is necessary as resources become scarcer on Earth.
SpaceX and Blue Origin have been fighting over a NASA contract to create a lunar lander for the government’s next mission, scheduled for 2024. Given their propensity to clash, space tourism seems a likely reason for future altercations too.