A company in China is planning to offer a low-cost near-space tourism service that would send people roughly 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, above the Earth. Space Vision, a Beijing-based startup, wants to offer a more affordable way to send people into space, or at least into near-space, using a specially designed high-altitude balloon, which will begin testing next summer.
According to the South China Morning Post, Space Vision plans to send passengers up 40,000 meters, roughly 131,000 feet, inside a pressurized capsule that will be lifted by a large balloon filled with non-flammable, non-toxic helium. From that altitude tourists would reportedly be able to see views of the Earth’s curvature and the vast dark space that surrounds the planet. The capsule would then descend using a large parachute.
People would be able to experience a brief moment of weightlessness, but they would not be able to say they have been in space, technically: The U.S. government designates as "astronauts" people who have been at least 50 kilometers above the Earth. That's 25 percent more than the maximum altitude projected for the Chinese craft.
According to Xinhua News Agency, Space Vision priced one five-hour trip at about 500,000 yuan, or $81,000 per person, which would include training and insurance. Similar services offered in the U.S. from World View Enterprises cost $75,000 per passenger. While $75,000 is not a cheap trip, it is considerably less expensive than the offerings by other companies such as Virgin Galactic, which will take you up to 100 kilometers, or 60 miles into space for $250,000 on the SpaceShipTwo space plane.
The company’s president, Jiang Fang, is confident in China’s wealthy and increasingly adventurous citizens to help propel his business. “Look around and you will find that we have plenty of potential customers in China who have enough courage, and wealth as well,” Jiang told Xinhua.
Though Space Vision would be the first to offer space tourism services in China, laws and regulations regarding control of civilian air space and national security concerns will prove to be a challenge for the company. As a result, Jiang is calling on legislators to allow private space activities.