Experimental NASA high altitude balloon circles Antarctica in ten days

Overview map
Click for original image.

An experimental NASA high altitude balloon has successfully circled the continent of Antarctica in only ten days, flying at an average elevation of 107,000 feet.

The overview map to the right, annotated for posting here, shows its flight path so far.

“The balloon is performing exactly the way it was engineered to do, maintaining its shape and flying at a stable altitude despite the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program chief. “As we continue to test, validate, and qualify this technology for future flights we’re also performing some cutting-edge science.”

The balloon is flying the Super Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT) payload, which has already returned brilliant research images from this flight.

Weather permitting, the balloon can be seen from the ground, especially at sunrise and sunset, as it continues on its globetrotting journey. People can track the real-time location of NASA’s super pressure balloon at this website: https://www.csbf.nasa.gov/map/balloon10/flight728NT.htm

The images have so far been of astronomical objects, such as the Antennae galaxy and the Tarantula nebula. Being so high above the atmosphere, the pictures are sharper than ground-based telescopes and have a much wider field of view.

The press release did not state how long this flight will last, but it did mention a second balloon mission is planned, flying a European cosmic-ray detector.

Travel agency buys two Space Perspective high altitude balloon flights

Space Perspective's Neptune Capsule
Graphic of Space Perspective’s Neptune capsule.

The travel agency Cruise Planners has reserved two future 20-mile-high flights on the high altitude balloon Spaceship Neptune, being built by the Florida-based company Space Perspective.

Cruise Planners has reserved two full capsules scheduled to fly in 2025 & 2027 respectively on Spaceship Neptune.

Spaceship Neptune will differ from other spacecraft by being attached and secured to the SpaceBalloon for the entirety of the flight, making it a safe and seamless journey for the traveler. Other vessels separate mid-flight and transfer to different flight systems. According to Space Perspective, Spaceship Neptune will be lifted to space by the SpaceBalloon, powered by renewable hydrogen with no rockets and no carbon footprint. Guests won’t have the jarring blastoff that is typical of space travel, but instead will ascend steadily at 12 mph, making the experience accessible for anyone who is able to fly with a commercial airline.

Space Perspective is one of three balloon companies now planning such high altitude flights. Ticket prices will range from $50K to $125K, depending on company. At the moment Space Perspective is charging the most, but expect that to change as the competition heats up.

A look at World View, one of two balloon companies about to offer high altitude tourist flights

An artist's impression of a Worldview tourist balloon in flight
An artist’s impression of a World View tourist balloon in flight

The future of space tourism is not going to be limited to rockets, no matter how romantic those rockets might be. For a lot of people, getting into space might not be a good option simply because of cost. Moreover, even if one could afford the cheaper suborbital flights presently offered by Blue Origin and are promised someday from Virgin Galactic, the short length of the journey, no more than ten minutes in space, could for many people make these flights not worth doing.

There is an alternative however, one that won’t get you into space, but will fly you high enough that you will be above 90% of the atmosphere, see the curve of the Earth, and get to do it for hours for far less money. This alternative comes from the high altitude balloon companies that are now working hard to begin flying tourists sometime in the next two years.

There are presently two American companies on the verge of flying tourists to up about 20 miles altitude. One is Space Perspective in Florida. If all goes as planned, it will begin flying passengers on its Neptune balloon by ’24, at a ticket price of $125K per head. It is presently accepting reservations with a $1,000 deposit.

The second company is Tucson-based World View. Up until 2019 the company had been planning to fly tourists, but a change in leadership brought on by its failure to meet the terms of a local development deal caused it to put those plans aside. Then in 2021 it restarted those plans.

Tickets will cost $50,000 per person, with World View providing what it calls “flexible financing options.” The company expects the first flight no earlier than early 2024.

At the moment about 1000 people have put down a deposit of $500 for a flight.

Both companies will be offering flights lasting most of one day, with additional pre- and post-flight activities.

On May 18, 2022, I attended an event held by World View at its Tucson headquarters. The event showcased the company’s talent, its facilities, and the value of hi-tech high stratospheric balloons. To begin the event, CEO Ryan Hartman gave a short presentation describing his goals for the company and the strategy he is following to reach them. The two graphics below come from that presentation, and provide I think the clearest outline of those goals and strategy.
» Read more

High altitude tourist balloon company, Space Perspective, raises $40 million

Capitalism in space: The Florida-based high altitude tourist balloon company, Space Perspective, has successfully secured $40 million in investment capital funding, which the company says will be sufficient for them to begin flights by 2024.

Unlike other space-tourism companies, Space Perspective isn’t relying on rockets to send passengers to space. Instead, it will use a balloon to carry its roomy pressurized “Spaceship Neptune” capsule up to 100,000 feet before gently coming back down to Earth and splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Each trip is expected to last about six hours with about two hours at the 100,000-foot mark.

They say their ticket price will be $125,000, which is far less than the suborbital space missions of Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic, but significantly more than the $50,000 that the other U.S. high altitude balloon company, Arizona-based Worldview, says it will charge for similar flights.

Nonetheless, the company’s CEO says they have already booked 25 flights.

Worldview to once again develop stratospheric tourist balloon flights

Capitalism in space: The Tucson-based high altitude balloon company Worldview has now announced that it is going to once again develop tourist balloon flights.

World View, based in Tucson, Ariz., announced Oct. 4 it is developing a passenger capsule that will be carried aloft by balloons to altitudes of about 30 kilometers. The Explorer Space Capsule will host eight passengers and two crew for flights lasting 6 to 12 hours, giving people a view of the Earth the company argues resembles that seen from space.

Tickets will cost $50,000 per person, with World View providing what it calls “flexible financing options.” The company expects the first flight no earlier than early 2024, with the nonprofit organization Space for Humanity, which offers spaceflight experiences for those who cannot afford tickets, buying the inaugural flight….

This project is a return to World View’s origins nearly a decade ago. The company originally said it would develop a stratospheric balloon system called Voyager for carrying people, offering them an aspect of the spaceflight experience without actually going to space. However, several years later the company shifted its attention to uncrewed balloons called “stratollites” that carry imaging and communications payloads into the stratosphere for weeks at a time.

The company’s CEO said they are hoping to pick up business from the suborbital market by offering a near-space experience that lasts hours for about one tenth the cost.

Worldview is now in direct competition with Space Perspectives, based in Florida and intending to fly passengers on high altitude balloon flights by ’24, but for $125k per ticket. That company was founded by the same people that founded Worldview.

Space tourism balloon company raises $7 million

Capitalism in space: The space tourism balloon company Space Perspectives has now raised $7 million for the initial development of their Neptune stratospheric balloon, designed to take tourists up to about 30 miles for long flights at the edge of space.

The company, with about 15 employees currently, will use the funding to continue development of Spaceship Neptune, a stratospheric balloon system designed to carry people to an altitude of 30 kilometers. Such flights would give people an experience similar to some aspects of spaceflight, notably the view.

A first test flight of the system, without people on board, is scheduled for the first half of 2021 from the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It will really take us through the concept of operations” of the system, Taber MacCallum, co-founder and co-chief executive of Space Perspective, said in an interview. “It allows us to jump into serious hardware testing.”

If all goes well, they plan to begin selling tickets next year as well, with the first commercial flight targeted for ’24. This funding round also likely puts the company ahead of its two Spanish competitors, who are presently tied up in litigation against each other.

The article also quotes company officials as lauding the FAA’s new revised licensing procedures, the first industry response I’ve seen to these new licensing procedures. The new rules [pdf] required a document 785 pages long (actually larger than the FAA’s first proposed revision), making it hard to determine their effect — for good or ill — without actually using them. This positive review by an industry user is a very positive sign.

Another high altitude balloon company enters the space tourism market

Capitalism in space: Another high altitude balloon company, this time from Spain, is now vying for the space tourism market.

EOS-X Space, a Spanish startup, wants to take 10,000 people to the frontier of space within the next 10 years. With EOS-X Space, the journeys won’t be in rockets or ultrasonic planes. They’ll instead take place in a pressurized capsule propelled by a balloon that will rise to an altitude of up to 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles.

This means space tourists won’t have to wear a suit for the duration of the trip, nor will they have to do any physical preparation. Depending on the weather, each trip is set to last four or five hours.

They are targeting the same market as the American company Space Perspectives, which hopes to begin flying tourists on its stratospheric balloon, dubbed Neptune, by ’24.

Members-only resort club teams up with Space Perspective for stratospheric balloon rides

Capitalism in space: Space Perspectives, which hopes to fly commercial tourist balloon flights to the stratosphere has teamed up with the members-only resort club Exclusive Resorts for future flights.

Space Perspective is partnering with the members-only vacation club Exclusive Resorts, which will become the first privately chartered travel group to fly aboard Spaceship Neptune, a pressurized capsule carried by a massive balloon, representatives of both outfits announced Wednesday (Sept. 16).

“The club has always sought ways to give members once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see and explore the world in transformational, meaningful ways,” Exclusive Resorts CEO James Henderson said in a statement. “Our partnership with Space Perspective will offer our members a unique view of our planet that only a few people have ever had the opportunity to experience.”

No ticket price has yet been announced. They hope to do the first commercial flights by 2024.

World View launches first balloon flight since explosion, raises $26.5 million

Capitalism in space: World View today launched its first Stratollite balloon flight since one exploded on December 19 as it was being prepared for launch.

The flight was commissioned by the NASA Flight Opportunities program office for two principal customers, the NASA Ames Research Center and Space Environment Technologies, both of which are studying radiation detection and its energy levels at different altitudes. The balloon vehicle is expected to gather data and stay aloft for less than 24 hours, depending on winds and landing conditions, a World View spokesman said.

More important, the company announced that it had raised $26.5 million in investment capital. All told, it is estimated that the company has raised $48.5 million in three rounds of fund-raising.

Worldview tests subscale prototype of its balloon and capsule

The competition heats up: Worldview, the company planning to sell tickets for high-altitude tourist flights to the edge of space, successfully completed this weekend a test flight of a 10-percent scale prototype of its capsule and balloon.

The balloon reached an altitude just over 100,000 feet, just under 19 miles. The capsule then separated and landed safely using a parafoil. This success keeps them on schedule for their first commercial flights in 2017.

Two Eagles manned balloon breaks record

The privately funded Two Eagles manned balloon has set a new endurance record as it drifts parallel to the west coast.

The team is making good progress in its flight parallel to the west coast of the United States and is now approximately 400 miles west of the Mexican border. It is still expected the landing will occur tomorrow (Saturday) morning on the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Pilots Leonid Tiukhtyaev (two-kh-TIE-yev) and Troy Bradley and the Mission Control team will be very busy during the final hours of the flight using winds at different altitudes to steer the balloon to a safe landing in Baja.

Manned balloon approaches North America

In its effort to set a new record for the longest gas-filled balloon flight, the two-man Two Eagles flight has now almost crossed the Pacific and expects to reach the west coast of North America by Thursday evening.

The balloon’s speed, as expected, has slowed considerably as the balloon enters calmer winds associated with a high pressure system along the West Coast. At this writing the balloon is west of northern California, and the team meteorologist, Luc Truellmans, predicts the ridge will continue to pull the balloon north and then east into Canada.

Once they do reach North America they need only travel 100 miles more to set a new record.

Update: Because of weather shifting to the south.