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News of Richard Branson aiming to beat Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos to space dominated the headlines on Friday, however, one husband-and-wife team have created their very own venture into the stratosphere.
Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, through their company Space Perspective, are offering people a series of six-hour flights into space, set to take off as soon as the end of 2024.
The couple, who are both industry luminaries and were founding crew members of Biosphere 2, said that the luxury spaceflight experience makes seeing the earth from space “as accessible as stepping on an airplane”.
“It really became clear that that suborbital level of going to space is where the tourism market is going to be,” MacCallum said.
“When you ask an astronaut, ‘what’s the quintessential experience’, they always say the same thing – it’s looking out of the window, peacefully, in a meditative way, seeing the earth in the blackness of space, seeing all the human family in one context.
“They don’t talk about the microgravity, they don’t talk about the rocket ride that much, that’s what they talk about. So we were thinking, how do you deliver that experience without the rocket ride with time to really soak it in.”
The company will allow explorers to travel to 100,000 feet (30,000m) to space on a pressurised spaceship capsule – Spaceship Neptune – lifted by a spaceballoon as large as a football stadium, which incorporates patented technology also used by NASA.
The capsules allow up to eight passengers and a pilot on the six-hour round trip, which includes the journey up and down, at slow speed of 12 miles per hour, as well as two full hours for the breathtaking 360-degree view. “It’s all really slow and gentle,” MacCallum said.
It includes reclining leather seats, a bar with an open call on champagne, WiFi, and onboard toilet facilities.
Reservations are now open to the public, and the company has already had over 300 seats reserved. Spaceflights for 2024 have sold out and it is now taking bookings for 2025.
Travel adventurers looking to upgrade their bucket list will be set back $125,000 (£9,061) a ticket, with first launches departing from Florida. The company hopes to extend this worldwide over time and eventually reduce ticket costs.
“If you can get on a commercial airliner, you can get on this more or less, that already opens it up to a much broader market,” Poynter said.
“We are already a lot less than anybody else flying, in the long-term we are certainly looking at bringing the costs down further.”
She added that the company had flown kids' experiments and art into space for people who had won competitions, and was looking to expand to locations across the globe, including somewhere in Europe.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Taber’s love for space started at a young age, admiring his father who worked as an astrophysicist and did astronomy work for NASA. His father’s work was focused on the study of gamma rays using spaceballoons.
“I grew up with these huge balloons that were launched from an air force base in New Mexico, and so the idea sort of came together, let’s bring back human flight under a balloon,” he said.
He added: “My birthday is 20 July so we had a birthday party when people first landed on the moon [20 July 1969], and it was a great time and very inspiring time to be growing up. It’s always been in my blood.
Watch: Space tourism: $125,000 balloon trip to the edge of space
Poynter, who grew up on the shores of Southern England, similarly developed a love for space growing up.
“I was one of those kids that was reading science fiction with my torch underneath the bedcovers, so I’ve been fascinated with space and space travel my entire life.
“Growing up in England it wasn’t apparent to me then that it was something I could actually do, so getting involved in the Biosphere 2 project really opened my eyes up to the possibilities.”
The expert diver added that she was also inspired by the transatlantic journey of Clare Frances and Jane Goodall.
After developing and serving as crew members in Biosphere 2, and starting the successful aerospace company Paragon Space Development Corporation, the pair have worked together for the last 30 years.
Last month, the company successfully completed their inaugural test flight of Neptune One, becoming the first space launch operator to fly from the Space Coast Spaceport.
During the historic six hour and 39-minute test flight, cameras onboard the capsule captured an image of earth at sunrise, showcasing views that customers will enjoy during their journey with Space Perspective.
“This is an inherently safe technology because it has been flown so many times around the world by NASA and other governments,” Poynter highlighted. “Then there’s the redundancies of the parachute which is always there as a backup, then we can also fly the vehicle autonomously without a human on board.”
She added: “What that gives us, for a testing programme, it allows us to really push the envelope and test all of these backup systems to make sure that they work, without ever putting a human onboard so you can really push it much more than you would otherwise.”
The market for space tourism is currently valued at $700bn (£509bn), however the company notes that it is inundated with expensive, high-octane thrill rides in the style of Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic.
One of the unique selling points of Space Perspective is that, unlike space rockets, there is minimal preparation and no training required for guests. It does not use rocket propulsion or G-force acceleration.
As the Branson-Bezos space race continues, MacCallum and Poynter, who acted as technical advisers to Elon Musk on human spaceflight before SpaceX became a reality, remain unperturbed.
“I think the whole Bezos, Branson thing about who’s going to go first is brilliant – it’s brilliant marketing for everybody. We all get to be part of this competition between them and see what they are doing,” MacCallum said.
“Because the market is so huge, we aren’t competing. All of us are going to be operationally limited for decades, it’s such a massive market. It’s better for us to work together, and each have our niche in what we do and support each other so we can then be competitive.”
Poytner added: “We are really focused on what we are doing, not on what they’re doing.”
Watch: How SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic plan on taking you to space