Chinese Balloon Space Odyssey


Travel to space in a high-tech balloon. Enjoy unprecedented views of the Earth and Sun before returning to solid ground in a parachute. It may very well sound like a pitch pulled from science fiction.

No, that is not the case, but if Chinese Entrepreneur Jiang Fang succeeds, a galatic tour of the stars via balloon may available as early as next year. Fang, president of a Beijing-based company “Spacevision,” told Xinhua on Monday they have already mapped out many of the technical aspects of such tour, which he says has been endorsed by many experts as feasible.

Passengers would ascend to 40,000 metres in a pressurised capsule, where they would enjoy not just the spectacular view of the earth’s curvature set against a backdrop of deep, dark space, but a few moments of reduced gravity, according to Spacevision. The company is working with government-funded research institutions on technological matters and it held workshop attended by several Chinese aerospace experts to discuss the plan.

The extreme balloon ride would also face hurdles such as safety laws and the government’s strict regulation of civilian air space, a mainland space expert said. According to the report, the capsule would be carried up by a balloon filled with non-toxic and non-flammable helium and descend under a large parachute. Passengers would also be equipped with special parachutes and jumpsuits supplied with oxygen that would enable them to bail out of the capsule at high altitude.

“Some experts gave expertise to improve our plan about issues on the gravity-free period and when and how the parachute should open,” Jiang said, adding that a more detailed and complete plan will be unveiled by the end of next month. Ouyang Ziyuan, a senior scientist in China’s moon probe mission, was quoted in the Beijing Times saying he believes the project is a “relatively reliable, safe and economical solution for space travel.” After the release of the detailed plan next month, the project will enter the equipment manufacturing stage. Test flights are expected for mid-2015.

Imagine looking out of your passenger window and seeing this!

Jiang expects a trip will cost around 500,000 yuan ($81,400). A similar project from US-based World View Enterprises, charges some $75,000 per person. “If everything goes well, the project will be open for the public after the test phase. However, as uncertainties exist, we can not be sure about the exact date and that is why we did not make the project open for candidates’ signing-up now,” Jiang said.

On its website, Spacevision claims they are China’s first private company to offer space tourism. The company’s president, Jiang Fang, called on lawmakers to draft legislation for private space activities as soon as possible. A space scientist with the Beijing University of Aeronautic and Astronautics said that the government had expressed their interest on numerous occasions in the involvement of private businesses in space projects. “But private rocket launch could raise military and safety concerns,” the scientist said.

As for technologies and safety issues, Jiang believes they will not be a problem. “Neither do I worry about our market,” he said. “Look around and you will find that we have plenty of potential customers in China, who have enough courage, and wealth as well.” “Ten years ago when I first talked about my ambition into the space business, nine out of ten people I knew told me that I must be crazy, but now, most of them, including scientists and officials, said I am doing a great business,” Jiang said. “You can see the space industry and awareness is growing fast in China.” Credit: ecns.cnscmp.com


The world’s first aviation disaster


You may be surprised to learn it took place almost 230 years ago. The tragedy occurred in Ireland, and came less than two years after the first free flight of a passenger-carrying hot-air balloon was made, in France. The doomed balloon crashed into the town of Tullamore, and the ensuing blaze destroyed more than 100 buildings. Limited size, limited directional control and very limited options in the case of fire meant that hot-air ballooning developed as a recreational sport and sightseeing option but not as a viable means of commercial travel

. Now, however, the voyage of a lifetime is on offer in what is essentially a descendent of the balloon that reduced the town of Tullamore to ash and cinders back in 1785. World View Enterprises made news last year with plans to take passengers more than 30 kilometres up to the edge of space in a “stylish, fully pressurised space capsule” (above) attached to a balloon, and this month the Las Vegas-based company has started accepting deposits for the first flights aboard the Voyager, which are scheduled for 2016.

The deposit is US$5,000 on a total ticket price of US$75,000. While this might sound like a lot of money, it is less than one third the price of Richard Branson’s upcoming Virgin Galactic space flights, which offer similar views. For more information, visit www.worldviewexperience.com.



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