Japanese Startup Announces Stratospheric Balloon Tour Plans

CEO Keisuke Iwaya unveiling Iwaya Giken’s two-seater cabin
CEO Keisuke Iwaya unveiling Iwaya Giken’s two-seater cabin

In the near future, space tourism may no longer be the exclusive domain of billionaires. A startup in Japan is aiming to allow customers to travel into the stratosphere for less than $200,000. Yes, millionaires can now see the Earth’s curvature without handing their entire net worth to an Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos-backed venture, while veryone else will have to settle for keeping our feet planted on terra firma.

Iwaya Giken has been working since 2012 to develop an airtight two-seat capsule and a balloon capable of taking a passenger 15 miles into the sky. According to the Associated Press, the company announced plans with Japanese travel agency JTB Corp. to arrange trips to “almost space.” The drum-shaped plastic cabin is 4.9 feet in diameter, seating a pilot and a passenger. A helium-filled balloon will lift the cabin from a facility in Hokkaido. Iwaya Giken, based in Sapporo in northern Japan, has stated that flights will remain entirely within Japanese airspace.

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Photo:  The Yomiuri Shimbun (AP)
Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun (AP)

The vehicle will rise for two hours to an altitude of 15 miles, the middle of the stratosphere, not space. The generally-accepted boundary to space is 62 miles high. For comparison, the Red Bull Stratos skydive in 2012 was from an altitude of 24 miles. The capsule will spend an hour there as the passenger takes in the views of space and the Earth through massive windows before spending the next hour descending back to the surface.

Company CEO Keisuke Iwaya aims to democratize space. Iwaya told the AP, “It’s safe, economical and gentle for people. The idea is to make space tourism for everyone.” A ticket to ride on the balloon to the stratosphere will cost $180,000. SpaceX is charging customers $55 million to go to the International Space Station. Though, Iwaya hopes that the price will eventually fall into the range of tens of thousands of dollars. The space tourism industry may be growing slowly, but it still isn’t a feasible vacation idea for the vast majority of people.

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