the counters of blue origin Y virgin galactic for space travel with passengers on board have already been open for a few months. But French companies are not far behind when it comes to space tourism. On the occasion of the 73rd edition of the National Astronomical Congress, which was held from September 18 to 22, 2022 in Paris – with the theme “Space for All” (“space for all”), the startup Stratoflight in collaboration with Expleo presented a original engineering project: a stratospheric balloon, flying at an altitude of 35 kilometers. It is specially equipped with a balcony to offer a breathtaking view of our planet.
A unique project in the world…
Because if there are already numerous projects that will allow Earthlings to be brought to the gates of space, the Stratoflight flight is, according to the two partners, unique in the world. The vehicle, eight meters long by four wide and three high, rises thanks to a ball zero pressure using decarbonated hydrogen, which does not require motorization to be inflated. A technology used for years for scientific flights by the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) or NASA, in particular.
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This is what makes traveling less expensive and more environmentally friendly than by plane or suborbital launcher, even if the flight therefore goes lower. This takes place in three very different experiences, describe Arnaud Longobardi, airline pilot co-founder of Stratoflight, and Christophe Cazes, Director of Innovation and Partnerships at Expleo. The first stage consists of the ascent in a balloon, propelled at low speed, in a contemplative flight that allows you to observe the ground slowly receding.
The second stage is what makes the idea of the project unique: an exit to the stratosphere, thanks to an extravehicular platform, for an extraordinary immersive experience close to that of a astronaut. Three people will be able to climb simultaneously on this famous balcony, equipped with a combination and this for a duration of 45 minutes. An experience possible because the shuttle, then high up (but not quite in space), is subject to the same gravity there as it is on Earth. The latter is clearly visible there:
At more than 35,000 meters high, the curvature of the Earth is perfectly visible and the horizon stretches from Barcelona to Amsterdam for a flight taking off from the center of France.
Finally, the third stage: the descent. First, under the ball, at a speed of seven meters per second. Then, at an altitude of 8,000 meters, the capsule separates from it and a piloted paraglider wing opens immediately, without falling, making it float to a landing, a bit like free flight in paragliding. The whole thing should take a little over four hours.
…which aims to be durable and affordable
Thus, those responsible for the project want to “offer an unknown experience”, but also “respectful of the environment”. Because the pollution caused by space tourism is a major problem today. “Rethinking near space travel or exploration in a clean way is at the core of our concerns”says Christophe Cázes. The passenger compartment must be made of bio-sourced, recycled, recyclable or reusable composite materials and of a circular economy. Consider, for example, bamboo.
The objective is to achievecarbon footprint As low as possible, explain to both partners. This is what motivated the choice of a hydrogen-based balloon. Finally, the last dimension of the project is its accessibility, since the cost of a trip of this type could be up to twice less than what is currently proposed. However, the exact price of a ticket is not yet defined, because all the providers of the various technological bricks necessary for the good performance of the flight have not yet been chosen.
The construction phase of the first ferry should now coincide with the sale of the first reservations, in 2023. If the various tests are carried out as planned, commercial flights could take off in 2025.