A French company plans to take passengers to the stratosphere, floating 15.5 miles above Earth’s surface for three hours in an elegant, mirrored capsule held aloft by a balloon. The capsule is comes courtesy of the designer behind some of Paris’s “it” restaurants.
The company, Zephalto, will send the 215-square-foot Céleste capsule aloft in partnership with CNES, the French national space agency. Created by Paris-based architect and designer Joseph Dirand, the capsule promises a dramatic view from its windows, which it calls the largest on the market at 75 square feet. The project will launch in late 2024 after seven years in the making.
Aeronautical engineer Vincent Farret d’Astiès founded Zephalto in 2016 in the south of France. His aim was to create a low-carbon alternative. According to the company, the voyage aboard Céleste will consume about 60 pounds of CO2, the same amount required to produce a pair of jeans.
“Architecture has a function and this, paired with my profound passion for hospitality, has provoked an inspiration for this innovative and groundbreaking project,” said Dirand in a press release. “It’s an unusual journey through space and therefore for an architect like myself who ultimately spends their time envisioning experiences, it’s one of the most unique ones to conceive.”
Zephalto joins American companies Space Perspectives and World View Enterprises in aspiring to take earthlings to the stratosphere, but judging by the images, their trips won’t be in nearly as elegant a vessel.
“I am thrilled to have built the bridge between my dream of space travel and reality,” said d’Astiès, Zephalto’s founder. “Those who share my desire to travel in harmony with the elements and sun and wind can finally do so onboard Céleste. Our expert team has been working very hard to create a vessel that the [French aviators] Montgolfier brothers would have been proud of.”
Six passengers will depart from France on the capsule, piloted by a team of two, and climb to cruising altitude in 90 minutes, at 13 feet per second. The six-hour trip will include three hours at the top altitude, more than nine miles above commercial airplanes. The trip will be available to people of all ages and physical conditions, said the company, with no pre-flight training required.
Céleste’s mirrored exterior, as Dirand described it, reflects both the terrestrial and celestial universes between which it will fly, while the three residential-style interior cabins, carrying two passengers each, are designed in a cream and beige palette. The capsule will rotate gently during flight, allowing a 360-degree view for all aboard.
Dirand has designed Paris restaurants Loulou, Monsieur Bleu, and Girafe, as well as New York eateries Le Jardinier and Shun (both in Norman Foster’s 100 East 53rd Street high-rise) and the OTAM 85 GTS speedboat.
The voyage will offer Michelin-starred cuisine from French chefs focusing on molecular and experimental dishes, and of course passengers will be able to post the experience to Instagram for their friends and fans to follow, since Wi-Fi will be available.
Zephalto bills itself as the world’s first luxury space travel experience. A pedantic person might point out that space doesn’t start for at least 50 miles, but who’s counting? Plus, passengers will pay only $132,000 each, considerably less than the roughly $250,000 they would spend to go into actual space for even a few minutes. In any event, passengers will see what astronauts term “the overview effect,” seeing Earth’s curvature, an experience astronauts have described as transformative.