A Japanese startup has partnered with a travel agency in an attempt to make commercial space viewing flights more accessible.
In partnership with Japanese travel agency JTB Corp., Sapporo-based company Iwaya Giken unveiled its latest project on Tuesday, showcasing the airtight, two-seat cabin it will use for its planned space viewing flights.
— NHKニュース (@nhk_news) February 21, 2023
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The cabin is reportedly 1.5 meters (approximately 4.9 feet) in diameter and will use a helium-filled balloon instead of rockets. According to the Associated Press, passengers will be taken up to the stratosphere at an altitude of 25 kilometers (approximately 15.5 miles), where they can enjoy views of Earth's curvature and outer space. It was noted that the commercial flight will not actually be in outer space; however, it will go higher than jet planes do.
Speaking to NHK, Iwaya Keisuke, the CEO of Iwaya Giken, said 2023 is a significant year for him as he is "aiming to get a gas balloon high enough to view outer space.”
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“Other than astronauts, people have not had a way to see Earth and outer space at the same time. We want to make it affordable and, of course, safe,” Iwaya told the Japanese network.
Iwaya reportedly began thinking about his plan while he was still an engineering student, and only started putting it into practice after he graduated.
According to NHK, Iwaya started the project by attaching a camera to a balloon that took pictures of outer space from an altitude of 30 kilometers (approximately 18.6 miles). This project then turned into a business plan, leading him to the idea that a "larger balloon would be able to carry people."
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On its website, Iwaya Giken calls the project the “Open Universe Project” that involves the “democratization of space.”
NHK reported that passengers will be given around one hour to float in the stratosphere.
They will be lifted from a balloon port on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The commercial cabin they will use will reportedly take two hours to reach the stratosphere and one hour to descend back to Earth.
Iwaya Giken originally planned for the flight to cost around 24 million yen (approximately $178,000), but Iwaya said they would eventually bring down the cost to several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars) instead.
Iwaya Giken is planning to host its first trip later in 2023 and began accepting passenger applications on Tuesday and will continue to do so until the end of August. The company will announce its first five passengers in October, with flights expected to take place a week apart.