Start-up bags $7m to bring tourists to edge of space on a balloon

4 Dec 2020

Image: Space Perspective

This week in future tech, a start-up called Space Perspective closed $7m to finance the development of a balloon spaceship for tourists.

The founder and co-CEO of Space Perspective, Jane Poynter, announced at Web Summit 2020 that the company had secured $7m in seed funding for the development and early flights of its experimental Spaceship Neptune craft.

The start-up aims to use a series of space balloons – attached with a pressurised capsule – to fly equipment and tourists to the edge of space on a six hour flight. The company’s first test flight of its Neptune 1 craft is expected towards the end of Q1 2021 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. While the first test will consist of an uncrewed, unpressurised capsule, Space Perspective hopes to begin crewed operations by 2024.

Anton Brevde, a partner of the investment firm Prime Mover Lab that led the funding round, said: “It’s clear that there is massive consumer demand to explore this final frontier and we believe seeing Earth from the edge of space will have a profound impact on those who experience it.

“What attracted us to Jane and Taber [McCallum’s] vision and approach was the safety, accessibility, and tranquillity of the Space Perspective experience.”

Hydrogen train completes milestone tests in Austria

Alstom’s Coradia iLint, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train, has just completed three months of test operation on the regional lines of ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways). This comes just after it received official approval from the highest railway authority in the country, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology.

This makes Austria the second country in Europe to approve the use of the Coradia iLint train. During testing, the train was put on four demanding routes in southern Lower Austria, Vienna and eastern Styria.

Commenting on the trials, senior vice-president of Alstom Europe, Gian Luca Erbacci, said: “We are immensely proud to confirm that the Coradia iLint has proven that it is suitable for all service routes – even on steep sections its performance is convincing.”

3D-printed magnets boost electric motor efficiency

Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland are leading a European consortium called 3Dremag which is developing a new material suitable for 3D printing of permanent magnets, which can be utilised in electric and hybrid vehicle motors.

The long-term aim is to develop a fully 3D printable electric motor, one that would be approximately 30pc lighter than today’s motors. While permanent magnets are found in more than 90pc of electric vehicle motors, their production is limited to simple shapes.

By creating more intricate 3D shapes, the researchers said, they could be optimised to boost resource efficiency and reduce the use of neodymium, a rare raw material, in production.

“In the long run, our goal is to construct a fully 3D printable electric motor that would be approximately 30pc lighter than today’s motors,” said Joni Reijonen, a research scientist and project manager at VTT. “Achieving this goal requires multidisciplinary co-operation and combining different technologies.”

VR consumer content revenue to exceed $7bn by 2025

The market for virtual reality (VR) content will be worth more than $7bn by 2025, according to Juniper Research, marking a 160pc increase on the $3bn it generated this year. The primary driver for consumer content in this space will be console gamers, which will account for 41pc of revenue generated in 2025.

Analysts expect that the demand for VR content accessed over smartphones will stall following the exit of Google and Samsung last year, with only 1.2m adapted headsets to be in use by 2025. However, while VR on the major gaming consoles is expected to drive much of this future revenue, it could fail to reach the mainstream.

“The price of entry remains an obstacle to many potential VR users and developers,” said research co-author James Moar. “We expect standalone VR to grow more rapidly, as the middle-ground of affordable quality, but platform providers need to develop ways for content to be more effectively monetised, in order to attract developers.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic