New space tourism operator Zephalto reaches the stars in 2024

In the past few years, space tourism has come to life, challenging the final frontier of travel. After years of testing, commercial outfits like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have already delivered on their promise to take paying customers into the stratosphere, albeit with no small amount of controversy surrounding their motives and environmental footprints.

In 2024, it looks like a new operator will enter the mix, offering luxury space flights to anyone with deep enough pockets. Founded by space engineer Vincent Farret d’Astiès, French company Zephalto has pioneered a slower, more thoughtful and less environmentally damaging way to take its customers on the journey of a lifetime – using a balloon taller than Notre Dame.

Zephalto’s first pressurized balloon and capsule, called Céleste, aims to lift off from France in late 2024 and carry six passengers to an altitude of 25 km (just over 15 miles) for an hour and a half at speed at an ascent of 13 feet per second. Spending three hours in the stratosphere, it will then descend for a total travel time of six hours. An essential part of the concept is that it will be accessible to all ages and physical conditions.

The aim is to give its passengers a view of the Earth from a new perspective and to see its spherical curve (known as the “Overview Effect”) while immersed in the darkness of space, outside of light pollution.

The capsule, which Zefalto playfully calls “the world’s smallest experience-oriented hotel,” was designed by architect Joseph Diran. Inside, it promises “a pared-down version of French sophistication in three spacious cabins,” each soundproofed for privacy with a 75-square-foot wide-angle window offering a nearly 900-mile panorama. There’ll even be Michelin-star catering and fine wine tasting if you get cranky on the flight (it’s a French company, after all).

Céleste’s environmental credentials are not to be overlooked, especially compared to rockets that consume fuel and emit greenhouse gases. Each flight will generate 26.6kg of carbon dioxide emissions per passenger, roughly equivalent to a 140-mile car journey. And since no heavy launch infrastructure is required, the impact at ground level is also minimal, meaning Zephalto has big plans to open spaceports in some pretty amazing places around the world.

Probably the biggest immediate concern has to do with flight safety. The technology behind the project comes from Zephalto’s partner, CNES, the French national space research center that has been sending balloons into the stratosphere for more than 60 years. The balloon will have EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) certificates as a commercial aircraft.

Founder and test pilot Vincent Faret d’Asties commented: “I’m thrilled to have built the bridge between my dream of space travel and reality… Our expert team has worked very hard to create a craft that the Montgolfier brothers would be proud of. After years of work on the approach, design and technical solutions, the concept is now tangible and will offer a highly immersive experience that will introduce our Earth and Space to the most affluent travelers.”

Zephalto will launch its pre-booking in the coming months with a ticket costing €120,000 per person, which is just under $130,000. The price includes many extras beyond the flight for a fully customized experience, including events, spaceport stays, photography training and more. If you have deep pockets and stellar vision, you can register your interest now.

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