Chinese entrepreneur eyes balloon-borne space tourism

Updated: 2014-09-29 18:24


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BEIJING - Travel to space in a high-tech balloon. Enjoy unprecedented views of the Earth and Sun before returning to solid ground in a parachute.

It may sound like a pitch pulled from science fiction - but if Chinese Entrepreneur Jiang Fang succeeds, a galatic tour of the stars via balloon may available as early as next year.

Fang, president of a Beijing-based company "Space Vision," told Xinhua on Monday they have already mapped out many of the technical aspects of such tour, which he says has been endorsed by many experts as feasible.

The commercial project includes a manned capsule carried by a high-tech balloon filled with helium gas to carry sightseers about 40 km above the Earth surface where they can see the curve of the planet, experience weightlessness and look for the spots where China's Chang'e and America's Apollo probes landed on the moon.

Jiang said in addition to the flight system, the company spent nine months researching feasible communications, radar and other ground-based monitoring operations.

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The company is working with government-funded research institutions on technological matters and it held workshop attended by several Chinese aerospace experts to discuss the plan.

"Some experts gave expertise to improve our plan about issues on the gravity-free period and when and how the parachute should open," Jiang said, adding that a more detailed and complete plan will be unveiled by the end of next month.

According to media reports, most of the experts believed the project was achievable. Jiang cited experts who have said China's flight systems technology for manned capsules and spacesuits are mature enough for such commercial projects.

Jiang, however,refused to disclose the names of their partner institutions or experts.

Ouyang Ziyuan, a senior scientist in China's moon probe mission, was quoted in the Beijing Times saying he believes the project is a "relatively reliable, safe and economical solution for space travel."

After the release of the detailed plan next month, the project will enter the equipment manufacturing stage. Test flights are expected for mid-2015.

Jiang expects a trip will cost around 500,000 yuan ($81,400).

"If everything goes well, the project will be open for the public after the test phase. However, as uncertainties exist, we can not be sure about the exact date and that is why we did not make the project open for candidates' signing-up now," Jiang said.

Jiang said he was a medical student and has been working in the medicine sector for years until 2004 when he started to do business as an agent for foreign space travel programs in China.

"I myself have signed up for an American program but never made it due to problems with the program," he said.

"And then I thought 'why not initiate one by myself?'"

Jiang did not reveal how much money his company has invested in this project but said it has already attracted entrepreneurs and investors.

His greatest concern at present is the country's policies regarding commercial space travel, as its a brand new industry.

Jiang's company is registered as a "high-technology company" at the industrial and commercial administration, since currently there is no registration that would match his description of "space travel agency."

As for technologies and safety issues, Jiang believes they will not be a problem.

"Neither do I worry about our market," he said. "Look around and you will find that we have plenty of potential customers in China, who have enough courage, and wealth as well."

"Ten years ago when I first talked about my ambition into the space business, nine out of ten people I knew told me that I must be crazy, but now, most of them, including scientists and officials, said I am doing a great business," Jiang said. "You can see the space industry and awareness is growing fast in China."