Space

Up, up and away into near-space in a beautiful bloon

Up, up and away into near-spac...
The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
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The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
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The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
The bloon launches from a dome that can be trasported around the world
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The bloon launches from a dome that can be trasported around the world
The bloon uses a parasail to return to Earth with airbags cushioning the landing
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The bloon uses a parasail to return to Earth with airbags cushioning the landing
The bloon's pod can carry four passengers and two pilots
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The bloon's pod can carry four passengers and two pilots
The bloon touches down
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The bloon touches down
The bloon returning to Earth on a guided parasail
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The bloon returning to Earth on a guided parasail
The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
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The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
The bloon's pod
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The bloon's pod
The bloon's pod
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The bloon's pod
The bloon launches from a dome that can be transported around the world
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The bloon launches from a dome that can be transported around the world
View from the unmanned scale prototype bloon test flight
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View from the unmanned scale prototype bloon test flight
The unmanned scale prototype bloon test flight
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The unmanned scale prototype bloon test flight
The bloon's flight cycle
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The bloon's flight cycle
View from the bloon's pod
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View from the bloon's pod
The bloon seats four passengers and two pilots
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The bloon seats four passengers and two pilots
The bloon pod
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The bloon pod
The blood pod
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The blood pod
The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
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The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km
View gallery - 18 images

While space tourism efforts by the likes of Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic are relying on the tried and true technology of rockets to launch paying customers into space, Barcelona-based company zero2infinity proposes a more leisurely and eco-friendly ride into near-space using a helium balloon. Designed to carry passengers to an altitude of 36 km (22 miles), an unmanned scale prototype bloon was flown to an altitude of 33 km (20 miles) last year and the company is already taking bookings for passenger flights that are expected to lift off sometime between 2013 and 2015.

The bloon consists of a 129 m (423 ft) diameter and 96.5 m (316 ft) high sail that carries a 4.2 m (13.7 ft) diameter pod with room for four passengers and two pilots into near-space. The pod features panoramic windows to enjoy the view and passengers can travel as a group of four or be isolated in a 2+2 seating arrangement if they prefer a bit of privacy. The only training required for passengers is a 2-hour training session on the eve of the flight to familiarize them with the bloon's safety systems.

The bloon launches from a dome that can be transported around the world
The bloon launches from a dome that can be transported around the world

Launching from a dome that can be transported to passengers' preferred point of departure, the bloon will take around an hour to ascend from the Earth's surface to an altitude of 36 km producing no emissions or noise. From there, passengers can enjoy a meal as they take in the views, including the curvature of the Earth, the thin blue layer of the atmosphere and the stars shining in the daylight. After cruising around for a couple of hours, the bloon will begin its descent by venting helium from the sail - a process which takes around an hour.

The sail will then be jettisoned and as the pod falls back to Earth, passengers will be given the option of experiencing up to 25 seconds of different levels of gravity, including zero, lunar or Martian gravity. After 10 minutes, a parasail will be deployed and the pod will be guided on a 30-minute descent to one of the pre-defined landing spots in the landing area. Eight vented airbags are deployed from the bottom of the pod to cushion the impact of landing.

The bloon's flight cycle
The bloon's flight cycle

zero2infinity plans to conduct its first manned test flight of a scaled down 'minibloon' next year, with the company saying passenger flights of the full-sized bloon are possible as early as 2013 and no later than 2015. Bookings are currently being taken at the price of 110,000 euro (approx. US$158,000) per passenger. In addition to passenger flights, zero2infinity is also hoping to use the bloon for climate research.

Via designboom

View gallery - 18 images
18 comments
Daniel Plata Baca
is it that hard to just mount a compressor, and compress helium instead of tossing it???? stupid people
Renārs Grebežs
I second Daniel!
Australian
Daniel - how heavy will the pump be? What will power it? These are all massive considerations. How much is the cost going to increase to? You may think these are \"stupid people\" but that comment just makes me think you have no idea about the practicalities and costs of making this sort of travel possible.
Carlos Grados
A quiet ride up sounds great and relaxing, then the ride down sounds like a thrill ride. I\'d like a way down that is equally relaxing- could that be another option?
Mike Kling
If they\'re going to jettison the lifting gas, it seems hydrogen might be a better*/cheaper choice. Specially since they have a parachute in the unlikely event something happened to ignite the hydrogen. * better lifting capability and could be generated on site.
VirtualGathis
As far as the helium I\'ve read articles lately stating helium is not as plentiful as the public believes and that the costs of helium will escalate dramatically over the next decade. So I\'d say the costs of the compressor system wouldn\'t be that huge compared to not having to buy helium every flight. As far as the weight of the system there are new compressors that could weigh as little as a passenger and still compress the gas at a reasonable speed. This would also address the Carlos\' concern as it could provide a leisurely decent.
Facebook User
Australian - you have completely missed the point. Good job.
Alan Belardinelli
No emissions, no noise, beautiful nature, and mother earth...bliss...jettison on massive piece of garbage and then sail away. Hmmmm, my deeply buried inner hippie has problems with this plan. Capture or recover the balloon in some fashion or this is a bad idea in my book.
Michael Bennett
helium is far too valuable a resource to be venting into the atmosphere, or wasting on birthday balloons, but like everything else in this world, nobody will care until it\'s too late. People just think we\'ll magically invent the tech to produce helium, or the tech to not use helium... Sounds like a sweet ride though, and if the price were right, I\'d probably go up into near space before saving the helium so my children could have access to MRI machines...
alcalde
I have to agree with the majority... I was already dreaming of the flight until it got into all of the jettisoning. Virtual is also right - we\'re simply running out of easily obtainable helium. There\'s a weird U.S. law that\'s requiring the government to divest its reserves which is artificially keeping the price low, but when that runs out the price will dramatically rise and we\'re doing things with it like kids\' party balloons - or this - when it\'s needed for serious scientific work. I can\'t believe the people behind this aren\'t taking this issue into account. Even U.S. comedians are aware of the problem: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/393273/july-27-2011/helium-runs-out Ok, when I got to the part about the $158,000 price tag I was even more disappointed than with the jettisoning. :-)