World View Enterprises offers an alternative to Virgin Galactic space flights.
World View Enterprises is a company that might not be able to take you into outer-space, but they can get you at least halfway there. While Virgin Galactic might be pioneering space tourism, World View Enterprises are pioneering near-space tourism. Their hot air balloon can take you to an altitude of 30 km (18.6 miles), giving you an unprecedented view of the Earth’s surface, and an experience that verges on leaving the Earth’s atmosphere.
Space is defined as 100 km (62 mi) from the Earth’s surface, but the space travel start-up based in Tucson, Arizona is hoping to create an experience that will be enough for space enthusiasts to hand over $75,000 of their money. They also recently obtained US Federal Aviation Administration approval for the balloon experiences which are expected to begin in 2016.
The balloon can accommodate two pilots and up to six passengers inside a pressurized capsule that replaces the traditional hanging basket of lower-altitude designs. The capsule is fitted with a parasail that is used for recovery, which in turn is attached to a 400,000 cubic meter (14 million cu ft) helium balloon. Despite it’s massive surface area of 25 acres (100,000 sq m), the material used to create the balloon means it (only) weighs about two tons.
5000 cubic meters of helium are required to fill the balloon initially, which comes in at a cost of about $50-60,000. So while the price tag might seem steep initially, it’s clear that much of it goes towards the resources being used for the trip. As pointed out by Brian Dodson of Gizmag, helium is a non-renewable resource with no existing methods to replenish our accessible sources. This ecological concern may not be enough to stop the project but it is definitely an issue that could become more severe if and when the near-space tourism industry starts to flourish.