Space tourism, still in its nascency, is already getting an eco-friendly makeover thanks to a Barcelona-based company called zero2infinity.
Existing programs like Space Adventures and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic use rockets to propel customers to the near-space experience; zero2infinity, on the other hand, will utilize a massive–try 423 feet wide by 316 feet high–helium balloon sail (or “bloon”) designed to carry four passengers, over the course of an hour, to an altitude of 22 miles. Once at altitude the passengers, either as a group of four or within a more private 2+2 seating arrangement, can enjoy a meal and the views of the earth’s atmosphere and the curvature of the planet as the bloon floats in near-space. During the return trip to Earth–which begins first by venting helium, then by jettisoning the sail entirely–passengers can experience 25 second’s worth of various gravity states, including zero-G, lunar and Martian gravity.
Some benefits of the new approach include the obviously smaller carbon footprint (as opposed to a rocket) and the fact that the dome from which the balloon is launched is portable, which means your launching pad can come to you rather than you traveling to the launching pad. Cost is also lower, though it’s by no means cheap. Tickets are expected to run about $158,000, compared to $200,000 for a Virgin Galactic ticket and a multi-million dollar price tag for Space Adventures.
Last year, zero2infinity successfully launched a scale prototype balloon to a height of 20 miles, and the company is already taking bookings for the first flights (floats?), which are expected to happen sometime between 2013 and 2015.
Read more at Gizmag.