As space tourism becomes a reality, Founder and Co-CEO Jane Poynter took the time to answer my questions about how Space Perspective is reshaping humanity’s place in the stars.
What Is Space Perspective
As space tourism ramps up in earnest, Space Perspective is a different model than the others. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and SpaceX both use proprietary rockets to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. Virgin Galactic uses a customized aircraft to drop its rocket-powered aircraft from 50,000 feet, climbing high enough to achieve weightlessness for about six minutes before landing back on Earth.
Space Perspective is completely different. Unlike the others, there is no rocket component, and no airplane either. Rather than leave the atmosphere entirely, it uses its SpaceBalloon™ to launch from either its vessel Marine Spaceport (MS) Voyager (the first marine spaceport for human spaceflight, or NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Space Coast to carry its passenger capsule to the edge of space: 100,000 feet. Rather than volatile chemicals and a harrowing, fiery, launch, Perspective’s capsule gently ascends at 12 MPH, delivering a six-hour ride (two hours ascending, two hours descending, and two hours at apogee and two hours descending) that culminates in an ocean splashdown- the safest flight path. Credit Space Perspective for combining traditional elements like launching from Florida’s space coast to a water landing for the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico.
Space Perspective is, comparatively, far more attainable for those who want to experience Earth from above but can’t afford Blue Origin’s $28 million/seat cost for its 10 minutes of weightlessness, or even Virgin Galactic’s sky-high $450,000 for its six minutes of floating. Space Perspective is offering seats for $125,000 with just $1,000 down. With more than 1600 tickets sold, they are booking three years out, but upgrades for earlier flights are available. Test flights, which began in 2021, resume this year.
I had a chance to ask Founder and Co-CEO Jane Poynter some questions about the service, her experience, and space tourism more broadly. Here was my Q&A:
Jane’s focus has been on sustainability and seemingly, the future of humanity, how does Space Perspective fit into that vision?
Poynter: “Space Perspective is the world’s first and only carbon-neutral spaceflight experience company. We are driven by a desire to share the transformative power of space travel with as many people as possible. We know that looking down on planet Earth from the deep blackness of space – the quintessential astronaut experience – will radically shift one’s perception of our world and our place within it. Astronauts often return from missions with a fire inside them; many get involved in environmental and societal causes. Often referred to as the overview effect, we call this the Space Perspective.”
Can you discuss some of the safety elements that make SP different?
Poynter: “Regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Space Perspective also follows or exceeds guidelines established by NASA and the U.S. Coast Guard. We have completely reimagined human spaceflight to be as gentle on our Earth as it is on our Explorers. Spaceship Neptune is designed to be the most accessible way to travel to space; with no heavy g-forces or training required, it’s as easy as being on an airplane.
Spaceship Neptune features a pressurized capsule that accommodates eight Explorers and a Captain, a Reserve Descent System, and a SpaceBalloon™, which propels the capsule to 100,000 ft at cycling speed (about 12 mph). Space balloons have been safely flown to over 100,000 ft (30 km) more than a thousand times by NASA, other entities, and our own team members – including with payloads heavier than our Spaceship Neptune capsule.
While we will launch from both land and sea – our launch vessel, Marine Spaceport (MS) Voyager is the first marine spaceport for human spaceflight – we land in water, which is the safest flightpath. Also unique to us is that the entire spacecraft stays intact throughout the whole flight – our capsule never separates from our SpaceBalloon at any time. Furthermore, our Reserve Descent System, which sits between the capsule and our SpaceBalloon, can safely land the capsule at any time during the flight.”
What happens if the Captain is incapacitated?
Poynter: “While the Captain plays a critical role overseeing the flight experience and communicating with Mission Control, Spaceship Neptune can fly itself and can be piloted by the flight team at Mission Control. So, our team on the ground has the controls to safely land the spacecraft if the Captain or anyone on board experienced an issue while in flight.”
Could you tell me a little about the splashdown experience?
Poynter: “The flight experience will last six hours from launch to landing. Spaceship Neptune ascends two hours to apogee, where it will be for another two hours. When returning to Earth, the spacecraft descends two hours until it reaches the ocean for a gentle landing — thanks to our patented Splashcone, which attenuates the splashdown and stabilizes the capsule. Two fast boats then arrive to take the capsule back to MS Voyager, and a custom A-Frame lifts the capsule back up onto the ship. After that, it’s about enjoying a series of post-flight celebratory rituals that we’ll reveal in the coming months.”
How do you avoid other air traffic, especially over such a long flight at such a slow speed? ‘
Poynter: “Spaceship Neptune coordinates its flight path with the FAA just as other traffic in the National Air Space does. There are transponders on board so that all aircraft and the FAA know where Spaceship Neptune is at all times. For the majority of the flight, Spaceship Neptune is flying above air traffic.”
Who is a good candidate for Space Perspective?
Poynter: “If you can fly on an airplane, you can fly with us on Spaceship Neptune. We welcome Explorers from all backgrounds – from our fellow space geeks to those wanting to reach a higher consciousness, share an unforgettable experience with their friends and families, or be one of the first to join the just over 600 humans who have ever been to space. In every case, Explorers will become part of the Space Perspective community forever.”
Many projects never get off the ground. How do you ensure Space Perspective will make it to its maiden voyage?
Poynter: “Space Perspective was founded by two human spaceflight veterans and serial founders- myself and Taber MacCallum. Prior to Space Perspective, [we] founded World View, a stratospheric balloon company focused on remote sensing and communications, as well as Paragon Space Development Corporation, specializing in life support systems and thermal control systems in extreme environments. Paragon’s systems are still used on the International Space Station, by NASA, major aerospace companies, and the U.S. military. In 2014, Google executive Alan Eustace chose Paragon to realize his dream of breaking the world freefall record, previously held by Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team, in what was called the StratEx project. Eustace is a founding board member of Space Perspective. Space Perspective’s team more broadly has been instrumental in the development of every U.S. human spacecraft for the past 40 years. Spaceflight is in our DNA.”
What is the future for Space Perspective?
Poynter: “We are on track to begin commercial operations for our more than 1,600 ticket holders (to date) at the end of 2024. At first, we will launch off the coast of Florida, and can launch around the Caribbean and the Gulf. But we are also in talks with several countries to establish marine spaceports and spaceflight operations as part of our global expansion plans. Launching from the ocean allows us to scale rapidly. MS Voyager is just the first in a fleet of ships that we will acquire for launching all over the world. We expect Explorers will be able to fly over the boot of Italy or see the Northern Lights from Spaceship Neptune. Space Perspective will also eventually launch new classes of our spacecraft that will allow for overnight flights and even more Explorers on board to share this experience together.”
What’s the future of space tourism more broadly?
Poynter: “Space tourism will continue to grow and diversify. We know that the demand for this gem of an experience is there, and once more people experience the awe and the profound way that it changes you and your perspective on our Earth, it will inspire more people to fly. This is very exciting to us – especially as a company unwaveringly committed to carbon-neutrality and safety.
We are at the forefront of what we’re calling the new space age, where space is a source of hope and inspiration, creativity and solutions – and very much part of our everyday life. Space has occupied a space of science and innovation for decades; increasingly, however, it’s permeating the zeitgeist – we’re seeing space in everything from film, music, and food to fashion. For us, in addition to offering an accessible way to experience space for more people than ever before, we are creating the lifestyle brand for this new and incredibly compelling era. This includes offering special edition flights – like the ones we are offering now with Miami magnate David Grutman’s Groot Hospitality — and working with artists, brands, and cultural institutions that share our ambition and values to create groundbreaking creative platforms.”
How did you arrive at the pricing for the journey?
Poynter: “Our pricing is in line with other memorable world excursions and luxury travel experiences like safaris and expeditions to Antarctica; however, our ticket price at $125,00 / seat was derived from the operational rigor it takes to back our commitment to safety — all of the testing and safety gates that we know from decades in spaceflight are paramount. The demand is very high right now, but like innovations before us, including airplane travel, access is more expensive at first. Once the scale is achieved, it opens up the possibility of bringing costs down.”
I’ll note that my travel agency offers expeditions to Antarctica for considerably less – about $8,000-13,000/person.
What do interested parties need to know about the journey that they don’t already?
Poynter: “Unlike other spaceflight experiences, ours is carbon-neutral, slow, and shared (we don’t use rockets). Explorers will embark on this six-hour journey in the world’s first Space Lounge – complete with Wi-Fi, a lavatory that we are calling the Space Spa, and the largest windows ever flown to space. With a capsule that accommodates eight people, you can imagine that it’s an attractive travel experience for those wanting to go with groups of friends and families – in fact, about half of our bookings are for full capsules. Those on board can look forward to a world-class meal and cocktail service and a fully customizable end-to-end experience. We are excited to announce some of our culinary partners in the coming months – some of the most inventive collaborators we’ve ever worked with, who will, literally and figuratively, take the food and beverage experience to uncharted territory.
We will also have hospitality options that include hotel packages and local attractions ranging from family friendly to high-end luxury — extended stays with entertainment and comforts all carefully considered to ensure Explorers are in the right place, body and mind, pre- and post-spaceflight. We will also offer premium content packages for our Explorers so they can leave with mini documentaries that capture their entire journey. Space Perspective intentionally hired executives from cultural juggernauts like VICE and Red Bull Media, and travel industry leaders like Virgin and Carnival Cruises, to create and curate these experiences and stories for our ticket-holders like no other company can.”
It’s been a great honor to learn more about a truly unique offering in the budding space tourism industry. I’m grateful to Ms. Poynter and her team for taking time from a busy schedule to give this behind-the-scenes look at Space Perspective and the industry more widely. I’m looking forward to trying it myself when my reservation is called.
What do you think?