A conceptual image shows the Spaceship Neptune, a project of aerospace firm Space Perspective, suspended from a hydrogen balloon in the stratosphere. Image courtesy of Space Perspective
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A new space tourism company plans its first uncrewed test flight of a capsule suspended from a hydrogen balloon in late March from Florida.
Arizona-based Space Perspective has announced plans to launch the balloon from Kennedy Space Center's former space shuttle landing strip, sending it on an hour's long ascent to the edge of space, about 20 miles high.
The company's ambitions are part of a nascent space tourism industry that includes such major firms as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX.
Initial interest and signups for potential customers on the company's website far outstripped anything the founders expected in June when it first announced its plan, said Jane Poynter, the Space Perspective founder and co-CEO with her husband, Taber MacCallum.
"We didn't know what to expect announcing this during a pandemic," Taber said Wednesday. "We didn't know if people were going to think about going to space, and the resounding answer was, 'you betcha.'"
She declined to say how many people have signed up.
A prototype of Space Perspective's 16-foot-wide observation capsule, Neptune, will be tested on the first flight, she said. It will not have life support systems or a built-out interior.
But Neptune eventually will include up to nine people, large windows, a bar and restroom.
Space Perspective also announced Tuesday it has closed $7 million in new financing to support expansion and future flights.
Some of the new investors include Wyoming-based Prime Movers Lab, Silicon Valley tech fund Base Ventures and motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins.
Robbins said in a press release that a flight on Neptune "will deliver a life-changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are...sharing this remarkable planet."
Meanwhile, the company is searching for a permanent home for its operations base, Poynter said. The launch site could remain in Florida or could relocate to spaceports in the planning and development phases in Georgia and Texas, Poynter said.
At 20 miles up, Space Perspective's observation capsule would reach about one-third of the way to outer space, but passengers could see the blackness above and observe the curvature of the Earth.
Tickets would cost roughly $125,000, Poynter said. By comparison, tickets for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic are estimated to cost $250,000 for a brief rocket flight 50 miles high. But no space tourism flights have left the ground yet.
Space Perspective is relying on a belief that many consumers may prefer a smooth, slow ascent -- about 12 mph -- and a longer experience than sudden launches and fast trips on rockets.
"It's a very soft, relaxed approach. No crazy astronaut G-forces," said John Spencer, a space architect who is founder and president of the non-profit Space Tourism Society, which promotes private spaceflight.
"Their approach is totally unique and I'm sure the market is far larger than many would think," Spencer said.
The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA