Japanese startup unveils balloon flight space viewing tours

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. startup / ˈstɑrtˌʌp / (n.) – a business that has just begun

    The government launched a program that aims to support startups.

  2. astronomically / ˌæs trəˈnɒm ɪ kəl i / (adv.) – by a very large amount

    Private jets are astronomically expensive.

  3. economical / ˌɛk əˈnɒm ɪ kəl / (adj.) – not using a lot of money, energy, etc.

    It’s economical to live in a small town because the prices in the city are so high.

  4. altitude / ˈæl tɪˌtud / (n.) – the height of something, such as an airplane, above sea level

    Airplanes fly at high altitudes.

  5. unobstructed / ˌʌn əbˈstrʌk tɪd / (adj.) – not blocked by anything

    The hotel room has an unobstructed view of the beach.


Read the text below.

A Japanese startup announced plans to launch commercial space viewing balloon flights that it hopes will bring an otherwise astronomically expensive experience down to Earth.

Company CEO Keisuke Iwaya said passengers do not need to be billionaires, go through intense training or have the language skills needed to fly in a rocket.

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

The company, Iwaya Giken, based in Sapporo in northern Japan, has been working on the project since 2012 and says it has developed an airtight two-seat cabin and a balloon capable of rising up to an altitude of 25 kilometers (15 miles), where the curve of the Earth can be clearly viewed. While passengers won’t be in outer space — the balloon only goes up to roughly the middle of the stratosphere — they’ll be higher than a jet plane flies and have an unobstructed view of outer space.

The company teamed up with major Japanese travel agency JTB Corp., which announced plans to collaborate on the project when the company is ready for a commercial trip. Initially, a flight would cost about 24 million yen ($180,000), but Iwaya said he aims to eventually bring it down to several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars).

While Japanese space ventures have fallen behind U.S. companies like SpaceX, Iwaya said his aim is to make space more reachable.

SpaceX launched three rich businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station in April for $55 million each — the company’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for NASA.

But unlike a rocket or a hot air balloon, the Iwaya Giken vessel will be lifted by helium that can be largely reused, company officials said, and flights will safely stay above Japanese territory or airspace. The first trip is planned as early as later this year.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • SpaceX launched three rich businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station in April for $55 million each. Why do you think some people are willing to spend an astronomically large amount of money to go to space? Discuss.
  • Iwaya Giken CEO Keisuke Iwaya said he wants to “democratize space.” Do you think this is achievable? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Would you like to see outer space? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • What can convince you to try this space viewing balloon (ex. price, experience)? Discuss.