This Startup Wants to “Democratize Space” With Balloon Flights

For just $180,000, you can travel 15 miles into the stratosphere for unobstructed views of outer space

A rendering of Earth as seen from outer space. Startup Iwaya Giken wants to democratize space travel with balloon flights.
Iwaya Giken's balloons won't go to outer space, but they'll get close enough.

If visiting space was on your 2023 to-do list, you may be in luck. Per a new report from the Associated Press, Japanese startup Iwaya Giken has announced plans to launch commercial balloon flights to space in hopes of bringing “an otherwise astronomically expensive experience down to Earth.”

According to CEO Keisuke Iwaya, the company wants to “democratize space” with its airtight, two-seat cabin and balloon that’s capable of traveling to an altitude of about 15 miles. It’s the culmination of a decade of work.

“It’s safe, economical, and gentle for people,” Iwaya said. “The idea is to make space tourism for everyone.”

Now, to be clear, the balloon won’t actually travel to outer space — 15 miles will only bring it to middle of the stratosphere — but, as the AP notes, it’s still higher than a normal jet plane can fly, and will offer patrons an “unobstructed view of space.” Which, I’d assume, is all people are really after anyway.

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It’s also worth noting that the first flight, tentatively scheduled for later this year, is set to cost around $180,000. And while Iwaya said that he’d like to see that price lowered further, potentially into the tens of thousands of dollars, it isn’t exactly a trip for the masses. The flights will also take place in Japanese territory or airspace, so there’s also the cost of a trip to Japan to consider.

For the uninitiated, the race to make commercial space tourism a reality has been mounting for quite sometime now. In fact, Florida-based company Space Perspective started taking reservations for its space balloon back in 2021 (though I’d consider that thing, which is roughly five meters in diameter with a balloon the size of a football field when fully inflated, is arguably more of a spaceship than a hot air balloon). And surely everyone, space fanatic or not, is familiar with SpaceX, which launched businessmen and their astronaut supervisor to the International Space Station in April to the tune of $55 million (each).

Applications for a space viewing with Iwaya Giken officially opened this week and will continue through the end of August, though the first five selected passengers won’t be announced until October. So if you’ve been thirsting after a once-in-a-lifetime, high-risk-high-reward, big-ticket, bucket-list trip? Better get in line now. Frankly, you couldn’t pay me.


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