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Up, up and away into near-space in a beautiful bloon

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August 17, 2011

The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km

The bloon is designed to fly passengers to near-space at an altitude of 36 km

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While space tourism efforts by the likes of Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic are relying on the tried and true technology of rockets to launch paying customers into space, Barcelona-based company zero2infinity proposes a more leisurely and eco-friendly ride into near-space using a helium balloon. Designed to carry passengers to an altitude of 36 km (22 miles), an unmanned scale prototype bloon was flown to an altitude of 33 km (20 miles) last year and the company is already taking bookings for passenger flights that are expected to lift off sometime between 2013 and 2015.

The bloon consists of a 129 m (423 ft) diameter and 96.5 m (316 ft) high sail that carries a 4.2 m (13.7 ft) diameter pod with room for four passengers and two pilots into near-space. The pod features panoramic windows to enjoy the view and passengers can travel as a group of four or be isolated in a 2+2 seating arrangement if they prefer a bit of privacy. The only training required for passengers is a 2-hour training session on the eve of the flight to familiarize them with the bloon's safety systems.

The bloon launches from a dome that can be transported around the world

Launching from a dome that can be transported to passengers' preferred point of departure, the bloon will take around an hour to ascend from the Earth's surface to an altitude of 36 km producing no emissions or noise. From there, passengers can enjoy a meal as they take in the views, including the curvature of the Earth, the thin blue layer of the atmosphere and the stars shining in the daylight. After cruising around for a couple of hours, the bloon will begin its descent by venting helium from the sail - a process which takes around an hour.

The sail will then be jettisoned and as the pod falls back to Earth, passengers will be given the option of experiencing up to 25 seconds of different levels of gravity, including zero, lunar or Martian gravity. After 10 minutes, a parasail will be deployed and the pod will be guided on a 30-minute descent to one of the pre-defined landing spots in the landing area. Eight vented airbags are deployed from the bottom of the pod to cushion the impact of landing.

The bloon's flight cycle

zero2infinity plans to conduct its first manned test flight of a scaled down 'minibloon' next year, with the company saying passenger flights of the full-sized bloon are possible as early as 2013 and no later than 2015. Bookings are currently being taken at the price of 110,000 euro (approx. US$158,000) per passenger. In addition to passenger flights, zero2infinity is also hoping to use the bloon for climate research.

Via designboom

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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18 Comments

is it that hard to just mount a compressor, and compress helium instead of tossing it???? stupid people

Daniel Plata Baca
17th August, 2011 @ 11:26 pm PDT

I second Daniel!

Renārs Grebežs
18th August, 2011 @ 01:26 am PDT

Daniel - how heavy will the pump be? What will power it? These are all massive considerations.

How much is the cost going to increase to? You may think these are "stupid people" but that comment just makes me think you have no idea about the practicalities and costs of making this sort of travel possible.

Australian
18th August, 2011 @ 02:47 am PDT

A quiet ride up sounds great and relaxing, then the ride down sounds like a thrill ride. I'd like a way down that is equally relaxing- could that be another option?

Carlos Grados
18th August, 2011 @ 05:08 am PDT

If they're going to jettison the lifting gas, it seems hydrogen might be a better*/cheaper choice. Specially since they have a parachute in the unlikely event something happened to ignite the hydrogen. * better lifting capability and could be generated on site.

Mike Kling
18th August, 2011 @ 06:22 am PDT

As far as the helium I've read articles lately stating helium is not as plentiful as the public believes and that the costs of helium will escalate dramatically over the next decade.

So I'd say the costs of the compressor system wouldn't be that huge compared to not having to buy helium every flight. As far as the weight of the system there are new compressors that could weigh as little as a passenger and still compress the gas at a reasonable speed. This would also address the Carlos' concern as it could provide a leisurely decent.

VirtualGathis
18th August, 2011 @ 06:51 am PDT

Australian - you have completely missed the point. Good job.

Facebook User
18th August, 2011 @ 08:15 am PDT

No emissions, no noise, beautiful nature, and mother earth...bliss...jettison on massive piece of garbage and then sail away. Hmmmm, my deeply buried inner hippie has problems with this plan. Capture or recover the balloon in some fashion or this is a bad idea in my book.

Alan Belardinelli
18th August, 2011 @ 08:50 am PDT

helium is far too valuable a resource to be venting into the atmosphere, or wasting on birthday balloons, but like everything else in this world, nobody will care until it's too late. People just think we'll magically invent the tech to produce helium, or the tech to not use helium...

Sounds like a sweet ride though, and if the price were right, I'd probably go up into near space before saving the helium so my children could have access to MRI machines...

Michael Bennett
18th August, 2011 @ 11:37 am PDT

I have to agree with the majority... I was already dreaming of the flight until it got into all of the jettisoning. Virtual is also right - we're simply running out of easily obtainable helium. There's a weird U.S. law that's requiring the government to divest its reserves which is artificially keeping the price low, but when that runs out the price will dramatically rise and we're doing things with it like kids' party balloons - or this - when it's needed for serious scientific work. I can't believe the people behind this aren't taking this issue into account. Even U.S. comedians are aware of the problem:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/393273/july-27-2011/helium-runs-out

Ok, when I got to the part about the $158,000 price tag I was even more disappointed than with the jettisoning. :-)

alcalde
18th August, 2011 @ 01:19 pm PDT

I would use hydrogen in the lifting bag for the greater lift, and fixed wings with electrically powered propellers for a controlled abort-able landing.

Slowburn
18th August, 2011 @ 04:49 pm PDT

Looks dodgy. That parasail better work every time.

Mark Eastaugh
19th August, 2011 @ 08:01 am PDT

We are running out of helium with no way of replacing it. Right now it is still artificially cheap, but the price will likely skyrocket in my lifetime.

sunfly
21st August, 2011 @ 10:12 am PDT

Hydrogen would definitely work better than helium, but the inevitable hydrogen fire would kill the business for the next 75 years, just like the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 killed dirigible travel.

If hydrogen could be used with perfect safety (it can't now, and never will) it would be a better and more cost-effective lifting medium; parasails are light and cheap enough that new ones could be used each trip (has to be cheaper than all that helium), fixed wings would increase weight and reduce paying payload (assuming that profitable payload being the main purpose).

Otherwise, yes, use hydrogen instead of helium, replace the gondola with a pressurized, fixed-wing, 4-place glider. Should make spectacular news when the b

William H Lanteigne
22nd August, 2011 @ 07:29 pm PDT

Wow, it's so incredible that there are so many people who actually have the right opinion and can see through the smoke and mirrors of the so called "eco-friendly" marketing of this joy ride. Helium stores are rapidly being depleted.

Give it credit for being a great idea and a huge improvement on the damaging effects to our atmosphere that rockets do. Unless they use a solar cell coating to power a compressor to recompress the helium and another to retain the balloon, I don't think that it should be given approval to be used. The government should not give it a license.

Governments unfortunately love to profit off polluting companies and will not all agree to the changes to industry and pollution that are needed because unless they all agree and all do it, the one that doesn't will cause all the other economies to collapse. So instead they are planning ways to profit from it like introducing a CARBON TAX, instead of mandating limits and closing businesses until they comply. Allowing them to pay to pollute is profiteering on the part of the government. Just as allowing this balloon to be built and allowed to be used commercially.

Foxy1968
22nd August, 2011 @ 10:52 pm PDT

You can not compress helium fast enough to provide for the low G decent.

Hydrogen does not burn without being mixed with an oxidizer and then being in the presence of an ignition source.

The Hindenburg burned on landing after spending several days developing a static electric charge. Her skin had been coated with enough powdered aluminum and iron oxide that it could have been used as solid rocket fuel. All that was required for ignition was an unbalanced electrical discharge, there were other possible ignition sources present as well.

This balloon will be fully grounded for inflation, will not be launching during unfavorable weather, and other ignition sources can be strictly controlled as well. If there is a fire, there will not be dozens of people trapped in the flames hundreds of feet above the ground.

Slowburn
23rd August, 2011 @ 01:10 am PDT

It is a shame that the Hindenburg tragedy has virtually killed any chance of hydrogen ever being used as a lifting gas ever again. As mentioned above, most of the fire was the cover burning. Given the size of the crash, casualties were quite low. As useful and inexpensive as hydrogen may be, just the mention of it to an aviation underwriter brings flashbacks of the Hindenburg and dooms the endeavor. In an open environment, hydrogen is very safe, more so than propane or gasoline. Its vapors rise, not pool on the floor. Tho it does burn without visible flame.

DaveM
23rd August, 2011 @ 09:37 pm PDT

Since when was extracting and then (just) discarding Helium "Emission Free" - sure, it's emission free at the event but certainly not emission free in production...

Reminds me of the quote (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember it exactly): A Californian's idea of Green is an Electric Car in Los Angeles being charged up by the electricity produced by a Coal-Fired Power Station in Nebraska.

DaddyHoggy
29th August, 2011 @ 05:56 am PDT
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