Balloon-based Space Viewing Tours to Be Offered by Japan Firm

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Iwaya Giken CEO Keisuke Iwaya, left, stands next to a capsule that will be used for space viewing balloon trips, on Tuesday.

 Japanese space startup Iwaya Giken announced Tuesday it will launch manned space viewing balloons into the stratosphere as early as fiscal 2023. The Sapporo-based company has begun accepting applications for the first batch of flights that will carry five passengers in total and cost about ¥24 million per person.

 The stratosphere is the layer of atmosphere that extends from about 10 kilometers to 50 kilometers above the ground. Thus, the balloon flights will allow passengers to look down on the Earth from a spot relatively close to outer space, which begins at an altitude of about 80 to 100 kilometers.

 Established in 2016, the company has developed gas balloons and an airtight capsule with the aim of offering space viewing tours by balloon. The company has already successfully launched an unmanned capsule into the stratosphere and conducted a manned flight at an altitude of over 100 meters.

 The balloon is controlled wirelessly from the ground and by a pilot. The plastic spherical capsule, 1.5 meters in diameter, accommodates a pilot and one passenger, who sit side by side. Special training and equipment such as space suits are unnecessary as the structure can withstand a vacuum and maintain an environment similar to that on the ground.

In the planned trips, the balloon will ascend to an altitude of 25 kilometers over about two hours, after which passengers will stay in the stratosphere for about one hour and then descend to the ground over about one more hour. The first launch could be as early as December, in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido Prefecture. Those hoping to catch a ride on the balloon can apply through the end of August.

 “We want to create opportunities where lots of people can more easily experience space,” said Keisuke Iwaya, CEO of Iwaya Giken.