Space Perspective raises $40 million for stratospheric ballooning system
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Space Perspective, a company developing a stratospheric ballooning system intended to give people views like those from space, has raised $40 million to fund the company through the start of commercial operations.
Space Perspective announced Oct. 14 the Series A round, led by Prime Movers Lab, a “deep technology” venture capital fund. Several existing investors joined the round, along with new investors LightShed Ventures, a consumer and media VC fund, and Explorer 1 Fund, a new commercial space VC fund.
“We firmly believe that Space Perspective is the best-positioned company to democratize space tourism,” Anton Brevde, partner at Prime Movers Lab and a member of the board of Space Perspective, said in statement. “It’s clear that there is massive consumer demand to explore this final frontier, and we believe Space Perspective will provide the most accessible way for travelers to experience space.”
Space Perspective will use the funding to complete development of its Spaceship Neptune stratospheric balloon system, featuring a capsule designed to carry eight passengers and a pilot to an altitude of 30 kilometers. The capsule will spend two hours at that altitude before slowly descending to an ocean splashdown.
Taber MacCallum, co-chief executive of Space Perspective, said in an interview that the company does not expect to need additional funding before commercial flights start in late 2024. “This is the last venture capital round that we’ll have before commercial operations,” he said. “We are fully funded to get all the way to commercial flight.”
“It really shows the level of investor confidence that we have,” he said. “Being fully funded by essentially your original investor base is a huge vote of confidence.”
Space Perspective performed its first uncrewed high-altitude balloon flight in June, taking a full-size, but not full-weight, capsule mockup to an altitude of 33 kilometers. MacCallum said the company would spend the next year working on the capsule and balloon system, “getting all the pieces together.”
That will be followed by 9 to 12 months of uncrewed test flights, performing “corner case” testing of the vehicle, including safety systems. “That’s something of an open timeframe, because we’re going to keep in that mode until we’re ready to fly people,” he said. Crewed test flights would begin in late 2023 or early 2024, with commercial operations starting in late 2024 from Florida.
“We’d like to move that up,” he said of the schedule. “Getting all of this money now allows us to jump into phases of manufacturing that would have taken other raises to do. We’re really able to run a lot of the development in parallel now.”
Space Perspective says seats for the first year of commercial operations have already been sold, with much of the second year also sold, although the company has not disclosed specific ticket numbers. MacCallum said more than half the ticket sales involve groups who purchased an entire flight, versus individual customers.
Space Perspective is facing competition, though. World View announced Oct. 4 that it was reviving its plans to offer crewed stratospheric ballooning flights. World View said its flights will begin as soon as early 2024, with ticket prices of $50,000 per person, less than half of Space Perspective’s $125,000 list price.
World View was established nearly a decade ago by a group that included MacCallum and Space Perspective’s other co-chief executive, Jane Poynter. “It was a bit surprising,” he acknowledged, adding that his company has already secured its Series A round when World View announced its plans. “It’s surprising but not something that is concerning.”
He was skeptical that World View could offer flights at its current price. “We have spent a long time modeling the operating costs and understanding what it really takes to do this with the best people in the world,” he said. “We’re building what’s going to be a really safe, responsible operation, and that’s what it takes to do this right.”
The company’s selling point is that it offers people one aspect of the spaceflight experience — the ability to see the Earth from a high altitude — less expensively than suborbital or orbital spaceflight options. MacCallum said that flights like Blue Origin’s New Shepard mission Oct. 13, which took Star Trek actor William Shatner and others to suborbital space, help generate interest in his company as well.
“You have people seeing their Star Trek hero in tears over the experience. It helps people get that this is the space perspective, that whole aspect of it,” he said. “What’s happening broadly is fantastic for us.”