Between Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Elon Musk's SpaceX – not to mention the commercial space stations and hotels in the works – the 21st-century space race is in full swing. The billionaires may have a head start, but now another company is getting in on the action with plans to fly passengers to the edge of space – by balloon. 

Dubbed Spaceship Neptune, the high-performance balloon covers the length of a football field and features a pressurized cabin big enough to transport eight explorers to 100,000 feet, above 99% of the earth’s atmosphere. The company behind the concept, Space Perspective, announced last week that the first uncrewed test flight is on track to launch early next year from its new base of operations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

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A rendering shows the view from Spaceship Neptune's capsule © Space Perspective, Inc.

“Today, it is more crucial than ever to see Earth as a planet, a spaceship for all humanity and our global biosphere,” Space Perspective founder and co-CEO Jane Poynter said in a press release. ““We’re committed to fundamentally changing the way people have access to space – both to perform much-needed research to benefit life on Earth and to affect how we view and connect with our planet.” 

A pilot will guide Neptune on its six-hour round-trip journey, from the two-hour ascent to the two-hour cruise above the earth to the two-hour descent and splashdown, all at near zero-emissions and under the watchful eye of the FAA Office of Commercial Spaceflight. Additional launch sites in Alaska and Hawaii are planned for the future. 

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Spaceship Neptune will reach an altitude of 100,000 feet, above 99% of the earth's atmosphere © Space Perspective, Inc.

Given the balloon’s gentle ascent and the capsule’s roomy interior, the flights are designed to be accessible to a vast swath of the population – as long as they can afford the cost of a ticket, reportedly US$125,000 a head. “That’s really what this is all about: everybody should be able to see the Earth from space,” Poynter said during a news conference last week, per the Orlando Sentinel. “We want them to really be able to experience what astronauts talk about, seeing the Earth in space in that inky blackness of the cosmos, looking down at the curvature of the Earth.”

“People have never been more excited about space travel,” Space Perspective founder and co-CEO Taber MacCallum added in the press release. “Few endeavors are more meaningful than enabling people to experience the inspiring perspective of our home planet in space for the betterment of all.” For more information, visit thespaceperspective.com.

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