Japanese start-up Iwaya Giken is joining the race to space, with plans to launch commercial flights into the stratsosphere this autumn. Olivia Palamountain reports

Based in Sapporo in northern Japan, Iwaya Giken has been working on its space tourism project since 2012 but is now ready to showcase its efforts with a debut trip into the stratosphere later this year.

How will the flights work? The drum-shaped plastic cabin, which can carry a pilot and a passenger, measures 1.5 meters in diameter, and is complete with several large windows to display spectacular views.

Attached to this capsule is a helium balloon capable of rising up 25km into the stratosphere over a two-hour-long ascent.

While this altitude doesn’t qualify as outer space, it’s considerably higher than the level at which an aeroplane flies and will allow an unobstructed view of that all important curve of the earth.

After an hour spent floating around, the capsule will make a one-hour descent back to the balloon port in Hokkaido.

Not only can helium be largely reused, making this a more eco-friendly initiative, but the balloon will remain safely above Japanese airspace.

As reported by AP News, Iwaya Giken CEO Keisuke Iwaya is keen to “democratise space” and make it an affordable dream.

“It’s safe, economical and gentle for people,” Iwaya told reporters. “The idea is to make space tourism for everyone.”

At the outset, it’s expected that a flight would cost about 24 million yen (US$180,000), however Iwaya is hopeful that this figure will decrease to several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars) over time.

Applications for a space viewing ride will be open until the end of August 2023. The first five passengers selected will be announced in October, according to company officials, and flights will take place approximately a week apart, weather dependent.