The space entrepreneurs who planned to send passengers ballooning into the stratosphere for astronaut’s-eye views of the Earth below, way back in 2013, have revived the idea for a new venture called Space Perspective. Co-CEOs Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter unveiled their concept for a balloon-borne capsule called Spaceship Neptune today, and said that uncrewed test flights are due to begin early next year.
Seven years ago, he and Poynter had a similar unveiling for World View Enterprises, an Arizona-based venture that aimed to fly people to an altitude of 100,000 feet, at a price of $75,000 a ticket. That attitude is much lower than the internationally accepted space boundary, which is 100 kilometers or 62 miles, but it’s high enough to gaze at a wide-angle landscape spread out beneath a black velvet sky.
Since 2013, World View has pivoted to sending up uncrewed payloads on balloon platforms known as Stratollites. Last year, Poynter and MacCallum brought in a new management team to head World View’s operations, leaving them free to plan their next venture.
After commissioning a study of the travel market, they found that stratospheric travel was still the right answer for what they were looking for. Space Perspective’s initial base of operations would be at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility, where NASA’s space shuttles used to touch down.
The experience would be unlike the relatively short-duration, rocket-powered ride promised by Virgin Galactic or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. Up to eight passengers and a pilot would climb into a spacious pressurized capsule for a two-hour ascent to the 100,000-foot level, lofted by a huge, hydrogen-filled balloon at the leisurely pace of 12 mph.
After a two-hour cruise at that altitude, Spaceship Neptune would take another two hours to descend to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. A ship would pick up the passengers, capsule and balloon, and return them all to shore.
Because the trip would last six hours, the capsule design leaves room for a bar — as well as an airplane-style toilet stall that would be recessed beneath Spaceship Neptune’s passenger cabin. “It will have the best view of any loo in the world,” Poynter promised.
In 2014 I had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Poynter about the benefits of 3D printing for space exploration. “Much like space technologies, 3D printing technologies have been around for quite a while and we have used them a lot for prototyping many parts of the capsule,” she told me speaking about the World View Experience project. At Paragon we have also been using 3D printing, mostly in the prototyping phase, for close to 20 years.” “However,” she added, we are truly hitting an inflection point. “Every year we are seeing a tremendous increase in activity and not just from people who are big dreamers but from those who are big doers as well. This is true for space technologies as well as 3D printing: I think we are going to see a lot of economic growth in these sectors in the upcoming years.”
“3D printing technologies will also play an important part in future deep space missions”, Jane added. Her companies develop crew and life-support systems for space missions. “When planning for a long-range space mission you have to take into consideration the necessity of carrying a lot of spare parts, in case something critical breaks. And it will happen. But you do not know in advance what will break so you have to carry along a lot of extra weight. With 3D printing, we will be able to carry just the digital design of all parts and a reservoir of powdered metal to 3D print it as needed. That will be a real game-changer.” Her space perspective is now a lot closer to coming true, and so is the opportunity for more people to get to see the Earth from above.