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Despite the end of Nasa’s space shuttle programme, space tourism remains the new frontier.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, one of the commercial spaceship companies chosen to carry Nasa’s scientists into suborbital space, already has 445 passengers booked, with $55 million in deposits. However, a more affordable option is on the horizon.

Bloon” is a six-person pod designed by Spanish company zero2infinity that will rise to the edge of the atmosphere, powered by a helium balloon. The cabin holds four passengers and two pilots for the three-hour flight, 36km above the earth’s surface. The flights will launch at night, so passengers can watch the sun rise over the curvature of the earth. While admiring the world from near space, in-flight information about the altitude and range of view will be displayed directly on the pod’s windows. To return to earth, the helium is vented slowly, then the balloon or sail separates from the pod, deploying a parafoil. The pod pops its airbags and is guided in for a landing. Bloon uses zero propellants, so there are no emissions or noise pollution.

The full ticket price is 110,000 euros, and for a deposit of 8,000 euros, customers can request when and from where they want to fly. Flights will lift off sometime between 2013 and 2015. A “minibloon” manned test flight is set for 2012.

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