In the 19th century, Jules Verne introduced Africa through Dr. Ferguson’s imaginary peregrines into a hot air balloon. In two years, travelers will also take a ride in a balloon, but this time very real and to discover the Earth, comfortably installed in the heat of a pressure capsule 25 km above the cow floor.
This crazy idea of tourism in the stratosphere sprouted in the heads of a handful of space enthusiasts gathered in the company Zephalto. “In the beginning, we had this dream of flying towards the stars like a sailboat, of kissing with means that respect the environment, in harmony with the elements air, sun and wind. The goal is not to pollute, to have a low-carbon trip,” insists Vincent Farret d’Astiès, an engineer educated at the National School of Civil Aviation (Enac) in Toulouse.
There is no rocket here to propel the balloon, and which at each launch on a launch pad produces no less than 1,150 tons of CO2 emissions. The gas that used to rise is lighter than air, and thanks to Archimedes’ thrust and wind, the balloon, dubbed Céleste, will not produce any emissions. And unlike the project that was launched across the Atlantic on the same concept, “we are developing a recyclable balloon envelope designed with more resistant materials,” says the founder of Zephalto.
To develop a balloon capable of flying up to 60 times a year in the long run, he decided to turn to the pink urban and space players. Born in 2016 on the side of Hérault, his company therefore resides on the outskirts of Toulouse, not far from the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), one of its partners that has already tested the technology. to stratospheric balloon. . But not quite as loud.
A pressure cabin, a journey within everyone’s reach
To reach 25 km altitude and offer the six travelers a panorama of 1,400 km on the blue planet, it is still necessary to develop a pressure capsule. A bit like airplane cabins where you can enjoy a good wine while admiring the view. And even take a selfie with our good old planet in the background. Hence the interest in getting closer to the aviation industry, which is also based in Toulouse.
Designed to observe the horizon at 360 °, this structure must be able to withstand low temperatures, which can reach -75 ° C when passing the 10 km high. However, it is out of the question to make a trial live for those who have paid 120,000 euros for a 6-hour journey aboard Céleste.
Nor to become Thomas Pesquet, ready to withstand gravity. “It must be like a plane, accessible to all and safe. There must be no physical restrictions. One of the people who signed up will go up with his father and son,” explains Vincent Farret d’Astiès, there the aerostat has inscribed in its genes: one of the ancestors who flew over Paris in 1870 aboard a balloon with strategic communications in its luggage while the Franco-German war raged.
Already almost 500 registered
He, in addition to the tourists who want the means to pay this large sum, are scientific experiments that he intends to embark on. “We want to bring people to share this dream, and we want to use it to bring useful data back to everyone, especially those on the climate. It’s a bit like the beginning of aviation in the 1920s, which was reserved for wealthy people. The pioneers made it possible to improve the technology that is now available to everyone, ”compares the head of Zephalto.
So far, 450 people have already booked their place by paying 5,000 euros. The first flights of this new flying object are already full for 2024, attracting French people and foreigners eager for new sensations and to see the Earth from a different angle. Until then, the test and certification phases continue. With the long-term ambition to onboard 360 people each year and bring them a little closer to the stars.