What if you could see both Earth and outer space from the comfort of a hot air balloon? Engineers at Iwaya Giken, a Japanese startup, are close to making this a reality. They recently unveiled their helium-powered space balloon which is expected to launch later in 2023.
The balloon seats two people and can rise up to 15 miles into the air, offering its guests unparalleled views of both Earth and outer space for the price of $180,000. Despite the steep ticket price, the company’s CEO is already searching for ways to cut costs, hoping the experience can be had for only tens of thousands. For reference, that would be comparable to the price of a high-end Antarctic cruise.
A Passion-Fueled Endeavor
Keisuke Iwaya, the CEO of Iwaya Giken, has always dreamed about space. Iwaya said he’s harbored a love of space and science since he was a kid, and was initially inspired by the zany Doc Brown from Back to the Future. This led him to study engineering in college, where the seeds for this project were sown: balloons with cameras attached, which he launched 18 miles into the sky. He was able to successfully take photos of the Earth with his creations.
Iwaya began working on his space travel balloon more than ten years ago in 2012. At the time of its unveiling, it included an approximately five-foot-wide, airtight cabin with one seat for the pilot and one seat for the passenger.
Built with plastic, the cabin on the new aircraft is resistant to temperature and air pressure changes. A helium-powered balloon enables it to rise to the center of the stratosphere, offering views that most people would only dream of experiencing.
The Future of Travel by Space Balloon
Iwaya Giken plans to hold the spacecraft’s inaugural launch later this year out of a balloon port in Hokkaido, Japan. The balloon will ascend for two hours and hover within the stratosphere for one hour before completing a one-hour descent back down to Earth. As of now, the balloon is restricted to hovering within Japanese airspace.
A strong proponent of democratizing space, CEO Iwaya is on a mission to make space travel more accessible than ever. “It’s safe, economical and gentle for people,” Iwaya said. “The idea is to make space tourism for everyone.” Because extensive technical training and millions of dollars aren’t required to enjoy the balloon, he argues that this project is a step in the right direction.
The balloon’s first five passengers will be revealed in October of 2023, and the company hopes to see them in flight a week apart from each other, weather permitting.
A Helium Hurrah
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