New Scientist looks at a Spanish company that is actively developing civilian flights in helium balloons that would take the joyriders 34 km high before descending in on a guided parachute:
Sure sounds like a safer option than Virgin's joyrides, which I predict is a business that will go defunct as soon as a fatality occurs.
There is no doubt that it is possible, because it has been done many times before. In the 1950s and 1960s, more than a dozen crewed balloons journeyed to near-space. In 1957, for instance, Joe Kittinger of the US air force ascended to a height of 29 kilometres in a capsule attached to a helium balloon. He enjoyed the ride so much that when ordered to descend, he replied: "Come and get me."
Zero2Infinity hopes to spread that joy to the civilian population. The company has carried out several test flights of uncrewed balloons, and earlier this year got the funding needed to carry out its first flight carrying people.
The plan is to use a massive helium "bloon", as the company likes to call it, to carry a pressurised capsule with space for two pilots and two passengers up to 34 kilometres above the Earth. You can book now - but at €110,000 per ticket, you'll need a little spare cash.
The New Scientist article also points out that one study indicates that the Virgin rocket (which has particularly dirty exhaust) could have very adverse effects indeed:
All rockets inject pollutants directly into the stratosphere, which has various effects. In particular, hydrocarbon-fuelled rockets, such as the kerosene-powered Soyuz, produce a lot of soot, which warms the planet by absorbing the sun's heat. While soot in the lower atmosphere usually rains out after days, it can remain in the stratosphere for a decade or more, massively amplifying its effect. In 2010, Martin Ross and his colleagues at The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit institution based in El Segundo, California, modelled the effect of 1000 sub-orbital launches each year with a rubber-burning engine like that of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. The study concluded that the climatic effect of this kind of space tourism could be on a par with that of all commercial aeroplane flights put together.Why hasn't this very anti-Green aspects of Richard Branson's vanity project ever had more publicity?