Zephalto Is Poised to Enter the Consumer Space Race with Sky-High Luxury

Set for 2024 takeoff, Europe’s first commercial spacecraft is ballooning with French detail.

A large silver hot air balloon hovers above the earth's atmosphere in front of the blackness of space.
Zephalto’s spacecraft was built by Airbus engineers in partnership with CNES and the European Space Agency. Courtesy Zephalto

Air travel is best experienced in first class, in a private pod with bottomless champagne, and from a window seat, for both the view and a perspective of earth’s magnitude. Imagine, then, traveling high into the atmosphere and enjoying a world-class experience along with a similarly world-class view at 80,000 feet—more than twice as high as commercial aircraft fly. At this altitude, it’s possible to gaze upon the thin blue line of earth’s stratosphere over the curved horizon. Now imagine floating in the quietude on the edge of space with champagne and Michelin-starred dining… in a balloon designed by the Balmain-and-Givenchy guy.

French-based Zephalto is entering the space race with the intention of bringing this idea to life. Starting in late 2024, Zephalto’s low-carbon, luxury balloons will send up to six passengers (plus two pilots) at a time to stratospheric heights, 15.5 miles above the earth. The six-hour journey includes three hours at altitude, taking in the sunrise past the stratosphere. From this height, passengers can see our planet’s spherical blue halo first hand, experiencing the phenomenon known as the Overview Effect, through a generous 75-square-foot window. This is a view that few have experienced—one that has brought many an astronaut to tears.

Opulence is everything with Zephalto, and this nearspace journey has little in common with the 10-minute rocket trips that have made headlines in recent years. Guests dine on Michelin-starred cuisine and enjoy tailored comforts (further details to be announced) in a luxury pressurized capsule, Céleste, designed by French architect Joseph Dirand—the visionary behind the Parisian stores for both Balmain and Givenchy, as well as top restaurants like Loulou (at the Louvre) and Monsieur Bleu (at Palais de Tokyo).

The experience has been a long time in coming. These futuristic stratosphere-brushing balloons have been bobbing up and down for the better part of the past century; France’s own space agency, CNES, has operated them for 60+ years. What’s new is that adventurous travelers can book a seat in Céleste, which was built by Airbus engineers in partnership with CNES and the European Space Agency and is gently lifted by a balloon the size of the Sacré Coeur in Paris. Passengers need no special training since gravity’s pull is still present, even at the pinnacle of the ascent.

Zephalto and the future of travel

This is the first phase of Zephalto’s longer-term vision, says founder Vincent Farret d’Astiès, whose background in air traffic control gave him the foundation for this endeavor. “While enjoying a sunset in 2013, I asked myself what it would be like to set sail for the stars, like how a sailboat leaves [shore] for the horizon.”

He founded Zephalto three years later, initially with the aim to send a manned balloon into the sky for 30 consecutive days. The brand evolved its mission from there to encompass perspective-altering views, in more ways than one, spun with luxury, and with little-to-no carbon footprint.

The company plans to offer overnight experiences for travelers by 2026, as well as multiple Célestes launching from different points around the globe, not just France. Through all of this, Zephalto will maintain its commitment to the environment, “without polluting, in harmony with elements,” Farret d’Astiès tells Observer. “The future of travel is to admire what earth offers in a sustainable and respectful manner, by using low or neutral carbon and ending mass tourism. It is to be impactful and useful… as well as meaningful, sharing once-in-a-lifetime experiences with family and close friends.” He adds that “personalization is key.”

A large silver hot air balloon hovers above the earth's atmosphere in front of the blackness of space.
Céleste in nearspace. Courtesy Zephalto

For now, a personalized experience of this magnitude comes at a price: €120,000 per passenger on the eight-person vessel, bookable now. The first flights have already sold out, with an estimated 60 charters planned for the first year of operations.

Zephalto is the first EU-based stratospheric balloon endeavor, entering the space tourism game with such U.S.-based providers as World View ($50,000) and Space Perspective ($125,000), both of which aim to set sail in 2024. Spacier space tourism efforts led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic take passengers all the way to the sub-orbital Kármán line, 62 miles up, making forays into areas of zero gravity before coming back down. They offer out-of-this-world experiences at out-of-this-world prices, from half a million dollars for standard tickets to $30 million for tailored jaunts to the stars.

Zephalto Is Poised to Enter the Consumer Space Race with Sky-High Luxury