Almost half of Americans want to travel in space.
But according to 2021, that means the other half isn’t Research According to Value Penguin, one of LendingTree’s financial research websites. Nearly 40% said space travel was too dangerous, and others were worried about the environmental impact and costs.
According to companies planning to send passengers to “space”, there will be an option to deal with those concerns immediately. Via high altitude balloon.
In reality, the balloon rises less than half the distance to the technical definition of the universe, yet it is nearly three times as high as most commercial flights, high enough to see the curvature of the Earth.
The balloon is “very calm” rather than a rocket launch with rattling bones, said Jane Poynter, the next co-CEO. Space perspectiveHope to take passengers to the stratosphere in 2024.
She said there was no “high G” to distort her face, no training was required, and travel did not emit carbon emissions.
Based in Florida, the company uses hydrogen to power its six-hour journey. Pointers say it will be smooth enough for passengers to eat, drink and walk around during the flight.
Hydrogen is “Fuel of the future“— A game-changing energy source that can change the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.
However, after a series of conversations with people in the field, CNBC Travel discovered a lack of consensus on its safety.
Stratospheric balloons are not new. It has been used in science and meteorological research since the early 20th century.
But it is so to transport a group of paid passengers within them.
Former U.S. Air Force pilot Joseph Kittinger (left) and Austria’s fearless Felix Baumgartner (right) at The Tonight Show with Jay Reno on June 8, 2012. Two small groups who went to the stratosphere with balloons.
Pole Drinkwater | NBC Universal | Getty Images
Poynter was part of a team that helped former Google executives Alan Eustace breaks world free fall record When he jumped from a stratospheric balloon about 26 miles above Earth.
While Eustus is wearing a spacesuit and hanging under the balloon, the passengers in the Space Perspective Pressurized capsule, She said, can fit eight travelers and pilots. She said the capsules are reliably backed up by a parachute system that has been blown thousands of times.
“Safety is the first thing that emerges in every conversation we have with people,” Pointer said during a video call from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “This is a really safe way to the universe.”
In December 2017, a hydrogen-filled balloon exploded at a facility of a stratospheric balloon company called WorldView Enterprises in Tucson, Arizona.
At that time, Pointer was the CEO of World View. She and her business partner and her husband, Taber McCallum, co-founded World View in 2012. They left the company in 2019 and established Space Perspective in the same year.
According to a report from the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health obtained by CNBC under the Information Disclosure Act, field managers suspected that “static electricity” had ignited hydrogen. According to the reportAn accident occurred during a ground test during the contraction of the balloon, and he was not seriously injured.
Electrostatic discharge, that is, electrostatic sparks, It is widely believed that the flammable hydrogen gas that ignited caused the Hindenburg airship disaster. 1937.
However, Peter Washabo, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, said hydrogen was inadequate because of the crash in Hindenburg.
“The outer cover of the vehicle was flammable. It’s not clear what ignited first: the cover or hydrogen,” he said. “During the storm, the aircraft was actively operating … I think it was an operational error.”
Washabo said advances in technology have made the use of hydrogen safer.
“There have been a lot of changes in the last 100 years,” he said, saying that the new balloon material is “especially good at containing hydrogen.”
Rendering inside the Space Perspective “Neptune” capsule.
Source: Space Perspective
Robert Knotts, a former engineering officer of the Royal Air Force and a current councilor of the Royal Airship Association, agreed.
He co-authored the following article at the Royal Aeronautical Society, a specialized body in the aerospace community: A hydrogen airship as safe as a helium airship.. “
Mention hydrogen on either an airship or a balloon “Everyone returns to Hindenburg. That’s their picture,” he said, calling the case Gas’s “major PR issue.”
On the other hand, hydrogen is currently used to power electric vehicles, but passenger planes (“God knows how many gallons of fuel are on board”) also carry an inherent fire risk. He said.
Worldview’s current CEO, Ryan Hartman, told CNBC that the space travel balloon flight to be launched in 2024 will be powered by helium.
“Our company is a very different company today,” he said. “Our decision is … purely from the perspective of wanting to be as safe as possible for passengers.”
He called the use of hydrogen to bring passengers into the stratosphere an “unnecessary risk.”
Hartman said hydrogen is used to fire balloons when “low risk”. He said it makes sense because it’s a cheap and very high quality lift gas.
A rendering of one of the worldview space capsules set to be launched from a spaceport near the Grand Canyon in the United States and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2024.
Source: World view
In 2018, Pointer, then CEO of Worldview, told CNBC: The world view does not use hydrogen With that balloon system.
But her new company, Space Perspective, is currently using it Rapidly growing hydrogen economyShe said.
“Helium is very scarce and hospitals need it for very disease testing, launching communications satellites, and conducting important research,” she said. “It is unsustainable to use helium for large-scale space travel flights because we already have a helium deficiency.”
In addition, “hydrogen has proven to be very safe as a lift gas,” she said.
The space perspective decision is Greater move to return to hydrogenJarid Ryditch, a former World View employee and current Chief Technology Officer of the Stratospheric Balloon Aeronautical Imaging Company, said: Urban sky..
“Hydrogen can be an absolutely safe gas,” he said, saying there is “ton” precedent for its use in other parts of the world.
“Of course,” Ryditch said, as to whether he would put the balloon in his stratosphere. Hydrogen or helium? He said that hydrogen can make the ride quality aspect safer, “because it’s a more efficient lift gas, the whole system is smaller and has some cascade advantages,” he said. Told.
He said he had already booked a seat on a Space Perspective flight and paid a refundable deposit of $ 1,000.
Nuts also said that the choice of gas “frankly wouldn’t bother me.”
Others weren’t so sure.
“I feel safer with a helium-filled balloon,” Kim Strong, an atmospheric physicist and chairman at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Physics, told CNBC.
But Mr. Washabo of the University of Michigan said he was at stake about riding a stratospheric balloon.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s an H2 or he. I like motor cars more,” he said in an email.
With ongoing discussions on the imminent helium deficiency, he said, Ryditch is working with “almost all” balloon companies to develop systems that are compatible with hydrogen and helium.
Brooklyn-based stratospheric balloon imaging company Near the Space Research Institute He is currently using helium, but CEO Rema Matevosyan said he is considering using hydrogen in the future.
“The benefits of hydrogen are there. All the problems with hydrogen are there and everyone knows it,” she said. “It will be a very complex transition … it will require research … the demand for this will also drive some of the research.”
EOS-X spaceThe Madrid-based stratospheric balloon company, preparing to launch space travel flights from Europe and Asia, is planning a switch.
“The first flight tests of this quarter will be powered by helium,” said founder and chairman Kemel Kharbachi. However, “Our engineers and development and innovation teams are working with hydrogen, so by 2024 we will be the first to use this technology.”
Others are particular about helium.
Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, Founder and CEO of Barcelona-based stratospheric balloon company Zero 2 InfinityHe told CNBC that his company’s space travel balloon rider “of course” uses helium.
“Our investors and clients absolutely want to avoid this kind of fireworks,” he said in an email and referred to a YouTube video showing a balloon explosion in a worldview ground test.
He did not rule out the use of hydrogen in the future, but his company “can introduce hydrogen into the crew’s high altitude flights in a modestly controllable manner after thousands of successful hydrogen flights.” Said.
Lars Karnais, a research scientist at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said the use of hydrogen can be a daunting battle as stratospheric tourism is a new and unproven venture.
“Risks, or even awareness of risks, will be a significant hurdle,” he said. “At least until the safety of the entire system is very well proven,” he said.
Hartman and Pointer may be disagreeable about which lift gas to use, but they say that riding a stratospheric balloon is much safer and much cheaper than rocket-based space travel. I did.
World View capsule tickets cost $ 50,000 per seat, but Space Perspective currently reserves seats for $ 125,000. The two companies said that all US-based flights were sold out in 2024.
But unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX, stratospheric balloons do not approach the universe, Kalnajs said. Most balloons travel at a height of 30-40 km (about 19-25 miles). It does not reach the internationally recognized cosmic boundaries (the so-called “Karman line”) set at 100 km above sea level.
Still, it’s high enough to see the “symbolic thin blue lines” of the Earth’s atmosphere, Pointer said.
Participants are sitting on the World View Capsule Prototype exhibited at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas in March 2022.
Source: World view
John Spencer, Founder and President Space Travel AssociationSaid that the stratospheric balloon is part of the “space community.”
“As far as I am concerned, they offer a space experience in balloon flight, and far more people can experience it than those who are willing to board a rocket ship,” he said. ..
Spencer said he was a friend of Pointer and her partner, McCallum, I am interested in balloon flight with their company.
“But I would rather see them use helium,” he said.