Zero2infinity is a Barcelona-based company that has high hopes of taking people where many of them have never gone before – 22 miles (36kms) up into the middle stratosphere, and all through the use of hot air, well, helium gas Bloon balloon.
We are all used to seeing astronauts and satellites get into space by riding on top of large rockets, and people like Virgin Galactic are developing smaller rocket vehicles to take fee paying passengers to the edge of space (62 miles, 100kms) into the thermosphere.
But the Bloon Balloon has different ideas, much cleaner, way greener and just that much more serene than getting strapped onto a rocket. The idea is to use an enormous lighter-than-air helium balloon that carries a central passenger pod with large viewing windows and housing four passengers and two pilots.
There are no noxious rocket emissions, nor greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted during flight, though all the manufacturing, transportation, recovery, and helium must have some significant GHG footprint – maybe the ticket cost includes some offsets. They also plan to monitor atmospheric parameters as they travel, providing some scientific knowledge along the way.
The passengers can enjoy the ascent and cruise phase, dining and perhaps drinking the odd glass or two, while watching the surface of the Earth sink away, its curvature appear on the horizon and the deepening of the sky’s blue mystic. A lot different to getting a few minutes of zero ‘g’, the blackness of near space and a shaking and rolling trip up and down.
The Bloon Balloon has communication and navigation equipment, inflatable landing gear, and a decelerating parafoil for descent. The Zero2infinity endeavor is quite advanced, having tested scaled prototypes to 33km (20.5 miles), and they hope to be able to lift passengers around 2015, after flying a human flown 'minibloon' craft next year (2012).
The cost is estimated to be around €110,000 (US$160,000) per person, and the inflatable ground station used for lift-off can be located anywhere in the world.
This seems like a great idea to me, in particular having the option to dine and enjoy a fine Spanish wine while literally watching the world go by.
Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.