Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

Gulf may become the place for out-of-this-world weddings

A Spainish tech firm is considering Dubai as a launch pad to send people into space.
José Mariano López-Urdiales, founder and chief executive at Zero2Infinity, plans to send stargazers skyward using gas-filled balloons. AFP
José Mariano López-Urdiales, founder and chief executive at Zero2Infinity, plans to send stargazers skyward using gas-filled balloons. AFP

DUBAI // Those looking for wedding destinations outside the UAE could begin considering the edge of space, after a Spanish tech firm announced plans to send stargazers skyward using gas-filled balloons, possibly from Dubai.

Barcelona-based Zero2Infinity aims to harness the same technology used in helium weather balloons to float its first clients to the edge of space within two years, according to chief executive Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales.

“We are solving the problem with space access in a totally different way. We’re getting outside of the atmosphere using cheap, clean, high-altitude balloons – a technology that is well-understood and mature,” he said at the World Space Risk Forum in Dubai. “From there, the possibilities are endless.”

Mr Lopez-Urdiales said his firm is considering launching balloon flights from Dubai as well as other Gulf destinations.

“Some people want to get married up there, so we will send them on a ride and the captain of the ship will marry them,” he said.

At a cost of €110,000 (around $122,000), the trip to the stratosphere will not be cheap, but Mr Lopez-Urdiales believes there will be a big market for people interested in experiencing a few hours as an astronaut.

“We think both launching satellites and launching space tourists is going to be an activity that creates a lot of wealth and a lot of prestige for the location where this happens,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons why we think Dubai and (the Gulf) are a good place to come to.”

A growing tourist destination, the UAE said last year it was pressing ahead with plans to send Hope, the first Arab unmanned probe to Mars by 2021.

In 2014, the Government said its investments in space technologies topped Dh20 billion.

Mr Lopez-Urdiales said that the technology for balloon space flights has existed for decades.

“We just want to make it affordable and safe for as many people as possible,” he said.

However, a string of high-profile setbacks for rocket programmes aimed at one day flying paying customers into space, has become the main hurdle recently.

In 2014, British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship – intended to take tourists to the edge of space – broke up on a test flight, killing a pilot and delaying the firm’s space-tourism goals.

SpaceX, a privately-funded initiative planning to launch a human mission to Mars by 2024, has suffered accidents in testing, most recently when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launchpad in September.

But with balloons, Mr Lopez-Urdiales insisted, the dangers are minimised.

“You don’t have all the explosion risks associated with rockets and you don’t have the high-speed re-entry risk,” he said.”We don’t even go above the speed of sound.”

newsdesk@thenational.ae

*with reporting from Agence-France Presse

Updated: November 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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