Space Perspective balloon
Space Perspective plans to start flying stratospheric balloons from the Kennedy Space Center in early, and eventually start carrying people on flights to the edge of space. Credit: Space Perspective

WASHINGTON — Space Perspective, a startup planning to offer tourists trips to the edge of space in a high-altitude balloon, has raised $7 million in a seed round that will allow the company to test its technologies.

Space Perspective announced Dec. 2 it closed the seed round, led by funds Prime Movers Lab and Base Ventures. Others participating in the round included Kirenaga Partners’ Central Florida Tech Fund, 1517 Fund, Schox, E2MC Ventures and SpaceFund Venture Capital, as well as entrepreneur and author Tony Robbins.

The company, with about 15 employees currently, will use the funding to continue development of Spaceship Neptune, a stratospheric balloon system designed to carry people to an altitude of 30 kilometers. Such flights would give people an experience similar to some aspects of spaceflight, notably the view.

A first test flight of the system, without people on board, is scheduled for the first half of 2021 from the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It will really take us through the concept of operations” of the system, Taber MacCallum, co-founder and co-chief executive of Space Perspective, said in an interview. “It allows us to jump into serious hardware testing.”

The company also plans next year to start selling tickets for commercial flights that Space Perspective expects to begin in late 2024. Jane Poynter, the other co-founder and co-chief executive, said the company has already been asking people to sign up to be first in line. “We’ve been excited about the response we got,” she said. “We’re now getting ready to start turning those into tickets.”

In addition to test flights and ticket sales, the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain a commercial launch license. That process, MacCallum said, should be easier now that the FAA has finalized revised regulations known as Part 450 intended to streamline launch and reentry licensing.

“It’s going to make our job a lot easier,” he said, citing the use of performance-based criteria rather than more prescriptive rules used the past. “It’s geared toward new technologies, and we’re sort of the extreme in the new technology part of that.”

Space Perspective announced its plans for stratospheric balloon flights in June. The balloon will carry a pressurized cabin with several passengers and crew on board to an altitude of 30 kilometers, spending about two hours there. The balloon will then gradually descend, with the cabin splashing down in the ocean to be retrieved by a ship.

Those plans remain unchanged, and the company has pressed ahead despite a pandemic that has devastated the tourism industry. “We’re a tourism company in the middle of an environment where tourism is effectively shut down,” said Poynter. The expectation that the pandemic will be over long before the company is ready to enter service, along with the interest in spaceflight experiences, has kept the company moving ahead. “Human spaceflight has always been an incredibly inspiring endeavor, and people are clearly excited now.”

That belief won over investors. “We are big believers in the future space economy and space tourism is a segment we have been tracking closely,” said Anton Brevde, a partner at Prime Movers Lab and a member of the board of Space Perspectives, in a statement. “It’s clear that there is massive consumer demand to explore this final frontier and we believe seeing Earth from the edge of space will have a profound impact on those who experience it.”

“Jane and Taber’s work at Space Perspective will deliver a life-changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are part of a human family sharing this remarkable planet,” Tony Robbins said in a statement to SpaceNews.

The seed round raised by Space Perspective won’t be enough to carry the company through to commercial operations. Poynter said she expects the company to raise another round by early 2022 to continue development of their system.

“It’s exciting that the capital markets are seeing the space tourism market as solid and real,” MacCallum said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...