As the space tourism industry continues to grow, a company offering a hot air balloon ride to the edge is making a major investment in the Space Coast as it targets a launch target dozens of times a year.
“Partly it’s a financial consideration, but also it’s the Space Coast,” exclaimed Jane Poynter, founder and co-CEO of Space Perspective. “This is where the history of human spaceflight was forged. So what a wonderful place for us to take our space clients. What an incredible experience it will be.
Speaking to Spectrum News 13 on Friday, Poynter said they were eager to expand their footprint in Brevard County beyond their current operations center at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. The new campus will be located at the Space Coast Regional Airport, across the KSC River.
“It really allows us to put the pedal to the metal on the manufacturing side,” Poynter said. “We are just starting to manufacture our Spaceship Neptune capsule. So it’s the first thing we’re building this year.
The company is also starting to manufacture balloons, with a goal of completing a test flight by the end of next year.
Balloon launch vs rocket launch
Space Perspective held its first test launch of Neptune One on June 18, 2021 from KSC, which was a milestone in its flight program.
The unmanned flight reached its goal of over 100,000 feet, circled over the Florida peninsula and landed in the Gulf of Mexico.
When the crew is on board, the Neptune capsule can accommodate eight passengers with the captain. It will feature 360-degree panoramic windows, refreshment booth, Wi-Fi for live streaming, and glare-free windows to support capsule photography.
The capsule is launched using their SpaceBallon, which is the size of a football stadium when fully inflated, and was developed based on technology developed by NASA and other agencies.
“When we put the ball on the launch pad, it goes up to 700 feet in the air. So it’s bigger than the VAB, ”Poynter said. “And when he takes off, he’s quiet and graceful. It is really the opposite of a rocket launch. It will be something to see and see. “
As for what viewers will see on the ground, there won’t be a brilliant streak of scorching light across the sky. Instead, Poynter said launch watchers can expect a more extended view of their huge balloon and capsule.
“You can actually see it with the naked eye. It’s a tiny, tiny white dot in the sky, ”Poynter said. “So you will be able to see him throughout the flight quite often, which is pretty cool. “
It will also mean a few hours early in the morning for spectators. Poynter said most of their launches will take place before dawn to maximize the experience for their passengers.
“We want to get them into space before dawn because we want them to be able to really feel this fullness of the stellar landscape once they’re above the atmosphere, which is going to be crazy,” he said. Poynter said. “And you don’t want the light pollution from the sun once it’s up, because once the sun comes up you get this amazingly iconic dark sky.”
Compared to other space tourism opportunities launched in 2021, Space Perspective will not go as high:
- Virgin Galactic (Unity 22) July 11, 2021 – 282,773 sq. Ft.
- Blue Origin (NS-16) July 20, 2021 – 351,210 ft.
- SpaceX (Inpsiration4) – 1,210,630 feet (orbital apogee of about 369 km or ~ 229 miles)
- Blue Origin (NS-18) October 13, 2021 – 347,539 sq. Ft.
- Blue Origin (NS-19) December 11, 2021 – 347,580 ft.
- Space Perspective (Neptune) End of 2024 – approximately 100,000 ft.
With the exception of the three-day Inspiration4 mission, the flight with Space Perspective will take much longer. From launch to landing, it’s an experience of around six hours, compared to around 10 minutes for a Blue Origin New Shepard launch.
Poynter notes that unlike the suborbital launches of Blue Origin and New Shepard, the rise of a Neptune spacecraft is much more gradual.
“We’re literally going into space at 12 miles an hour. So it takes you about two hours to get up there, we’ll be floating above the atmosphere at the edge of space for about two hours, and then it will take another two hours to come back down, ”Poynter said. “And all the while, the eight passengers and the pilot will be inside this very comfortable pressurized capsule.”
Prepare for passengers
With his next test flight slated for late 2022, Poynter said things will speed up dramatically.
“Once we start flying we will have a pretty robust rate of test flights until we start flying our first human flight, crewed flight in 2023, then in 2024 start our commercial flights,” he said. Poynter said. “This is our current estimated schedule. “
Part of the preparation is making the spacecraft and balloons that will be needed for these tourism opportunities. The capsule itself will be reusable, but the balloon will need to be replaced each time.
Poynter said each capsule will fly at least 50 times per year, once it hits its usual launch rate.
“We’re going to have a fleet of capsules as we start our commercial flights in 2024,” Poynter said. “The balloons are for single use. The material of the balloon itself is single use, so we need this amazing building that we are building that is 700 feet long because the tables that we make these balloons on are 600 feet long, which is it. made a table.
Right now, all passengers have to be adults to be able to fly, but Poynter said they are working to be able to fly children in the future as well.
Unlike launches aboard Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX, Poynter said there won’t be extensive training to board a Neptune spacecraft.
“The way we design this spacecraft is if you can get on a commercial plane, you can pretty much get on the Neptune spacecraft,” Poynter said. “So, yes, there will be a safety briefing, but that’s about it. So really, the preparation process is sort of preparing yourself for this amazing experience that you are about to have. “
Investment in the Space Coast
In addition to announcing its investment in its new campus, which will include a $ 9 million, 120,000 square foot manufacturing building, Space Perspective plans to hire approximately 240 permanent full-time jobs by the end of 2026.
Hiring for jobs with an average annual salary of $ 80,000 began this month and will continue through 2022.
“We have jobs in the manufacturing sector, for which there is a lot of talent here, and then we are also a travel company. We are a space travel company, ”said Poynter. “So we can take advantage of and benefit from the incredible tourism industry that is here. So there is really a vast experience in this region that we can build on, as well as attracting new talent from outside to this region as well.
Space Perspective’s investment isn’t the only major project underway to bring jobs and production to the space industry in Brevard County.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Space Florida voted to continue negotiations with an undisclosed company that plans to develop and build a spacecraft manufacturing plant at Orlando Melbourne International Airport.
Working as the “Griffin Project,” the $ 300 million investment would result in “high-value new construction, equipment and tooling through a debt financing structure and would create approximately 2,100 jobs. ‘by the end of calendar year 2025’.
These jobs would have an average annual salary of $ 84,000 plus fringe benefits.
In West Melbourne, engineering firm USSI Global is considering an expansion that would consist of the construction of a new 22,400 square foot facility, which would house administrative, logistics and warehousing activities.
The company would invest $ 1.45 million in new capital investments and create 21 new full-time jobs over three years with an expected average annual salary of $ 43,190.
USSI Global, also known as National Service Source, Inc., is also considering Dallas, Texas for this expansion, which is why the Economic Development Commission of the Ad Valorem Tax Abatement Council of Florida recommended a 60% reduction for six years.
Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum News 13, is one of EDC’s investors.
Brian Baluta, EDC’s vice president of communications, said the reduction will be performance-based, meaning that it will not receive the reduction if USSI Global does not meet the employment, salary and payroll numbers. capital investment pledged each year.