Tourists who want to soar to the stratosphere by balloon now have a marine launching option.
Space Perspective, which aims to start flying customers to the stratosphere by 2024, just announced that it has acquired a "marine spaceport" vessel named MS Voyager. The ship is named after the NASA Voyager 1 mission, which, among other accomplishments, took an iconic "pale blue dot" picture of Earth in 1990 from beyond the orbit of Neptune.
The vessel, acquired for an undisclosed price from shipbuilder Edison Chouest Offshore, is 292 feet (89 meters) long and will be customized to launch and retrieve the Spaceship Neptune capsules operated by Space Perspective, which sells seats for $125,000 apiece.
"Removing geographic borders for launch and landing accelerates our mission of making this transformative experience more accessible to the world and international marketplace — safely, reliably and with minimal impact on our planet," Jane Poynter, Space Perspective’s founder and co-CEO, said in a statement.
MS Voyager will use biofuel to reduce its carbon footprint, with other offsets provided by the nonprofit Cool Effect that has partnerships with entities like the Yale School of Public Health and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Marine "spaceports create ideal launch conditions in two ways: by navigating to areas of good weather, which allows for year-round operations within a region, and by moving with the sea breeze, so there is virtually no wind across the deck," Space Perspective said of its decision to start a vessel fleet.
The company cited other advantages as well, including more launch opportunities, more options for night or day launches, and flexible destinations for passengers who may be unable to fly to the one land launching site that Space Perspective has secured so far in coastal Florida.
The Spaceship Neptune capsule will have a splash cone at its base to support a water landing. During recovery from the ocean, the capsule will be stabilized using small boats, and an A-frame will lift it onto MS Voyager.
Space tourism is in its early stages as an industry and has hit some snags with the first providers, which include Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. Both of these companies, unlike Space Perspective, carry passengers to altitudes over 50 miles (80 kilometers), which NASA, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. military classify as outer space.
Blue Origin's rocket flights exceed the Kármán line, which lies at an altitude at 62 miles (100 km) and is recognized by the International Astronautical Federation as the boundary of space. Blue Origin has made six suborbital tourism flights so far, but its New Shepard spacecraft is currently grounded until the company finds the root cause of an anomaly that occurred during an uncrewed flight in September.
Virgin Galactic uses a carrier aircraft, called VMS Eve, that drops a space plane called SpaceShipTwo in midair. The company made a high-profile test flight with founder Richard Branson on board in July 2021, which later was revealed to have flown outside its assigned airspace (a regulatory issue).
Virgin Galactic is upgrading its fleet and has delayed the relaunch of flight operations several times; it's planning to return to flight in 2023 at the earliest. The company is also working on a new series of space planes that the company says will boost launch rates later in the decade.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.