CASE. At an altitude of 25 km, Zephalto reinvents balloon travel, in the darkness of the stratosphere

CASE. At an altitude of 25 km, Zephalto reinvents balloon travel, in the darkness of the stratosphere

Created by a Hérault resident, the start-up Zephalto wants to take tourists into the stratosphere from 2025, aboard a pressurized capsule. A unique and luxurious journey, where you can see the roundness of the Earth and the spatial night.

Measured, Vincent Farret d’Astiès prefers to speak of "rejoicing rather than impatience", the goal within reach, yet impalpable, in fact. Not quite the vacuum of space something approaching it, "98% of the atmosphere below you", reached after eight years of effort.

Imagine, 15 km above the planes, "the Earth showing its curvature in the black of space, the atmosphere with a bluish halo around it and a panorama of 1,400 km", i.e. the Hexagon from horizon to horizon for three hours stuck to the large bay of the capsule. The prospect is exhilarating, which will be offered from next year to "silver pioneers", passengers of Céleste and Zephalto for a unique journey. "Rare, those who have been there", slips the founder of the French SME, describing the stratosphere as, "a little, an unexplored continent".

CASE. At an altitude of 25 km, Zephalto reinvents balloon travel, in the darkness of the stratosphere

Hérault resident Vincent Farret d’Astiès, founder of Zephalto. Hector Passat/Pics Prod

At 25 km from the ground, there are indeed a handful who have flown. Spy plane pilots, astronauts crossing it in the blink of an eye, adventurer Bertrand Piccard and his ancestors “pose” the level of difficulty that the Zephalto firm wants to “erase” to make it a destination… sheltered, undoubtedly from overtourism. Crazy project ? Certainly not.

A sum of challenges

"It was in my genes for a long time!", laughs Vincent Farret d’ Astiès, whose ancestor fled besieged Paris in 1870 by balloon. Here's the anecdote. The gentleman said: "It’was something that called me. The desire to see new horizons", visit this immense sky, blooming above the tower where he regulates air traffic, in this year 2015, when he leaves the Directorate of Civil Aviation to follow his idea. "A vehicle that can go more easily into the stratosphere" and allows manned flight there at an acceptable cost, at only force of the wind.

It’s new and innovative. Cnes is on board, financial partners are contributing a “pot” where the Héraultais provided the first subsidies, the company was created in the family home of Pouget, west of Montpellier, industrial partners looked at the challenges to be taken up.

The stratosphere is a bit of an unexplored continent, very inaccessible. Few have been there

"There were several, indicates the aeronautical engineer. It was necessary to design the capsule, Celeste, pressurized, light, equipped with operational systems up to minus 80°. Backed by the expertise of Cnes, Zephalto has developed a reusable envelope for the balloon, to both reduce its cost and its environmental footprint. This required "that it would be more robust, while remaining light and flexible" thanks to an assembly of polymers different from large ordinary consumable balloons . 150,000 m3, it will be filled with hydrogen or helium, will lift the crew of two pilots and their six passengers to an altitude of 25 km in 1 hour 30 minutes. depending on the wind direction, "perfectly identified. We will know precisely what its trajectory will be."

CASE. At an altitude of 25 km, Zephalto reinvents balloon travel, in the darkness of the stratosphere

The Céleste capsule, pressurized and equipped with large bays, promises a luxurious trip, comfort and gourmet meals. Joseph Dirand Architecture

Seven years after the birth of the company, today everything is accelerating. The final capsule in production at ST Composites, in Labège, in a Toulouse suburb, "aerospace ecosystem" where Zephalto has set up in July 2022, and three test flights carried out with a prototype, the start-up is preparing "the first test flight at 25 km, pressurized, in the coming weeks. The first trip with passenger will be for 2025", Vincent Farret d’Astiès plans the commercial baptism of fire the same year.

At $170,000, some, "of all profiles", have already booked a ticket to the world of ;rsquo;up.

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