A Look Inside Space Perspective’s Space Balloon Factory: CEO Interview

Space Balloon recently completed the construction of the first prototype of Spaceship Neptune.

Space Perspective space balloon
The first complete prototype of Spaceship Neptune at Space Perspective’s manufacturing facility. Space Perspective

It has been nearly three years since Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos flew into space in spaceships built by their respective companies and the billionaire space race dominated news headlines. While public interest in space tourism seems to be fizzling, the nascent industry is steadily moving forward. Branson’s Virgin Galactic (SPCE) and Bezos’s Blue Origin now both fly paying customers to space regularly (although Blue Origin’s space tourism rocket was grounded in 2022 after six crewed flights). And among companies new to the party, other types of space travel vehicles are being built. 

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In Titusville, Fla., a few miles away from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Space Perspective is busy building a prototype spacecraft that can one day carry eight passengers and a giant hydrogen balloon that will lift it into space. The company has plans to test fly its first crewed mission as soon as this year. 

Founded in 2019 by husband and wife Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, Space Perspective sells an experience distinctly different from those offered by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Its balloon-powered space capsule, named Spaceship Neptune, is designed to be slowly lifted to the stratosphere, about 100,000 feet (19 miles) above Earth, at a speed of 12 miles per hour. The capsule will feature a bar, a bathroom and huge windows perfect for sightseeing. The entire ride will last six hours, including two hovering at peak altitude, where passengers will be able to see the curvature of Earth and the total blackness of space. It doesn’t provide the thrill of traveling at supersonic speed or floating around in microgravity, but it also comes without the discomfort of being strapped onto a rocket or the need for any pre-flight training. Passengers will launch aboard a ship, called Marine Spaceport Voyager, and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean upon return, where they will be picked up by a recovery ship.

“Our entire career has led us to this moment.”

Space Perspective’s manufacturing facility, unveiled in August 2023, includes a plant where workers assemble the approximately 16-foot-tall capsule and an office area for engineers to conduct flight simulations and meetings. Outside the office building stands a 700-foot-long tent where the giant space balloon is being put together. The tent houses a pair of tables stretching 600 feet, the length of the balloon when fully inflated.

On Feb. 14, Space Perspective revealed the first complete prototype of Spaceship Neptune, named Excelsior, to a small group of company board members and investors, marking a major step toward building the world’s largest human tourism spacecraft (excluding the International Space Station).

Space Perspective's Spaceship Neptune
A prototype of Spaceship Neptune at Space Perspective’s manufacturing facility. Space Perspective
Space Perspective balloon
Inside the tent where the giant space balloon is being assembled. Sissi Cao for Observer

Poynter and Taber’s professional partnership goes back more than three decades. Before founding Space Perspective, the couple had a long career running companies that developed supportive technologies for the aerospace and defense industries, such as environmental control systems in spacesuits and space balloons for cargo missions. 

In 2014, a team led by Poynter and Taber called StratEx carried out a social media-famous demo with the computer scientist Alan Eustace. A space balloon lifted Eustace to 136,000 feet (26 miles) in the sky, where he then jumped in a pressurized suit and, 4 minutes and 27 seconds later, safely landed on Earth with the help of a drogue parachute, breaking the world record of the highest altitude free-fall jump.

You might say that our entire career has led us to this moment. We have essentially done every aspect of this mission before,” Poynter told Observer in an interview from her office in Titusville in January.

“During the StratEx mission, we discovered that, if you could have altitude control very precisely, you could station a balloon much better than a satellite,” she said. “It was really proof that we can use space balloons to fly people to space, because we saw how gentle it was.”

At the entrance of Space Perspective’s manufacturing facility, there is a visitor area that shows off artifacts from Poynter and MacCallum’s previous work, including the spacesuit worn by Eustace during the 2014 mission. On a side table lies a Meta Quest headset that offers visitors a virtual tour of the inside of Spaceship Neptune when hovering above the Mexico Gulf.

Space Perspective office lobby
Alan Eustace’s spacesuit on display at Space Perspective’s Florida office. Sissi Cao for Observer
Space Perspective co-CEOs Taber MacCallum (left) and Jane Poynter.
Space Perspective co-CEOs Taber MacCallum (left) and Jane Poynter. Space Perspective

A marketing strategy spanning Mercedes cars and Oreo cookies

As co-CEOs, Taber takes charge of all the technical aspects of Space Perspective, while Poynter leads the company’s sales and marketing efforts.

Space Perspective has a unique advertising strategy that involves joining forces with brands that otherwise have little in common. The company has a partnership with Mercedes-Maybach under which Spaceship Neptune made a cameo in the new Mercedes-Maybach commercial and the German luxury carmaker agrees to use its electric cars to transport Space Perspective passengers to and from their spaceflights. Down the road, the two companies may collaborate on incorporating Mercedes-Maybach’s design elements into Space Perspective’s spacecraft.

“We have a similar customer base and our brands are very aligned,” Poynter said, “in that we are both about giving our customers a ‘beyond’ experience and very focused on sustainability.”

On the other end of the brand spectrum, however, Space Perspective also recently struck a deal with Mondelez International, the food giant that owns Oreo cookies, to launch a galaxy-inspired, limited-edition cookie called “Space Dunk.” Available online and in stores starting Jan. 23, each cookie is stuffed with layers of blue and pink “cosmic creme” with a marshmallow flavor and popping candies that create a supernova bursting sensation with each bite. With each purchase, customers can also enter a sweepstake for a chance to win a ticket on Spaceship Neptune, priced at $125,000 for regular passengers.

The Mondelez partnership “shows that we’re working with brands on both the luxury brands side but also focus on inclusivity,” Poynter said. “We are all about bringing this very big idea of space exploration and making it accessible to everybody.”

Space Perspective began taking reservations in 2021 and to date more than 1,750 people have put down a deposit, the company said, representing more than $200 million in potential revenue and enough to keep the company busy for a few years. 

When asked whether she and MacCallum would be the first to go on a crewed flight like Branson and Bezos, Poynter said there’s no doubt as long as she can get seats for both of them (because the first crewed test flight usually prioritize having engineers on board to perform testing work).

I will definitely be going up before we have the public go up,” she said. “I really want to make sure we’ve dialed in the experience, from beginning to end. I want to test it and tweak it before we have customers fly with us.”

A Look Inside Space Perspective’s Space Balloon Factory: CEO Interview