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Saudi Arabia plans tourist flights into the stratosphere

This photo taken from the International Space Station shows the 'blue halo' of the Earth's stratosphere Nasa
This photo taken from the International Space Station shows the 'blue halo' of the Earth's stratosphere
  • Trip will cost $164,000, says Halo Space
  • Saudi test flight scheduled for June
  • Aiming for 400 trips a year in 2029

From 2026, well-heeled tourists in Saudi Arabia will be able to book a day trip that is out of this world: a near-space flight priced at $164,000 per person.

Halo Space, a Madrid-based company that is developing a craft for flights into the Earth’s stratosphere, has chosen the kingdom as one of its departure bases – and plans to launch a test flight from Saudi Arabia in June. 

This will be the company’s sixth test and will send its second prototype 32km above Earth’s surface into the stratosphere – the second layer of the planet’s atmosphere. 

Halo Space has conditional approval for the test flight from the Saudi regulator, the Communications, Space & Technology Commission. 

Its craft is an aerospace balloon with a pressurised capsule, which can carry eight passengers and a pilot. The capsule will have panoramic windows that allow a 360-degree view of Earth.

The company aims to start commercial flights in 2026 and to be making 400 commercial trips a year from 2029. 

The flight time would be 4 to 6 hours, Halo Space said, including 1 to 2 hours at a maximum altitude of 35km where the “blue halo around the curvature of the Earth” can be seen. 

“Because the helium balloon-powered ascent is gradual, there is no heavy acceleration or G-forces, meaning nearly anyone can board a Halo flight without the need for special training,” the company said in a statement. 

Halo said its flights would be available for “a fraction of the price of orbital and suborbital flight offerings”. Seats on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceplane cost $450,000 in 2023, according to the website Space News.

Trips on New Shepard, the suborbital vehicle developed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, vary in price but two seats were sold for $2.5 million in 2022.

A prototype Halo Space capsuleSupplied
A prototype Halo Space capsule. The company says its flights will last 4 to 6 hours

Halo is planning to open four year-round bases for its flights. As well as Saudi Arabia, it has picked the US, Australia and Spain. 

It said it had chosen these locations because of their favourable “meteorology, territory and airspace for safe near-space stratospheric flights”. 

Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in the space industry in recent years.

Although negotiations to invest $1 billion in space tourism via Richard Branson’s Virgin Group collapsed in October 2018, Riyadh established its own space commission in December that year. 

Last summer it replaced the commission with the Saudi Space Agency. The agency’s chairman, Abdullah Al Swaha, said its formation was a “qualitative leap” for the kingdom’s space ambitions.

A 2023 SpaceTech report found that Saudi Arabia leads the Gulf’s satellite sector, having launched 35 out of the region’s 60 satellites.

“The Saudis are now moving fast,” Bayly Winder, non-resident scholar in the Middle East Institute’s strategic technologies and cybersecurity programme, told AGBI last year.

“They are asserting themselves by making rapidly bold moves. The combination of money being invested into the space programme and buy-in from the highest levels of government is potent.”

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