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Published: 11 March 2014

Surrey opens virtual door to space

Space researchers have launched a unique campaign that will enable the public to ‘travel’ to space for the price of a pair of trainers.

Only 530 people have ever travelled to space; Virtual Ride to Space is designed for the rest of us. The project, being run by researchers in the University’s Surrey Space Centre (SSC), offers the public the chance to see what astronauts experience on an ascent to space – via a PC, smartphone or special headset – for a cost of around £40.

The Surrey team will use cutting-edge virtual technology and a specially designed spacecraft to deliver a three-dimensional, immersive experience. A weather balloon carrying a cluster of 24 HD video cameras will be launched to a height of 20km (twice the height of a commercial aircraft), capturing panoramic footage as it ascends to space. The balloon is then expected to burst, at which point a parachute will be triggered to bring the payload safely back down to earth.

Following the flight, the footage will be ‘stitched’ together using specialised software to recreate a panoramic view of the space trip. Members of the public can then experience the resulting space ride as if they are in space themselves using Oculus Rift, a state-of-the-art virtual reality, head-mounted display, specifically designed to deliver high definition 3D virtual environments.

Bringing the experience to a wider audience, the project team is also developing a smartphone application that will allow users to experience the journey using their phones’ built-in gyroscope and accelerometer data, as well as a computer programme enabling users to experience space via their PC.

The £30,000 project is being funded by public contributions through the crowd-sourcing funding platform, Kickstarter. By donating at different levels, users can book their virtual journey to space, join a live podcast to see all the behind-the-scenes action on launch day, or even experience the launch and retrieval of the spacecraft in person. The project is looking to raise £30,000 by 3 April.

“For most of us, travelling to space is a distant and very expensive dream. This project is about enabling the remaining 99.999992% to see the world like never before,” said lead researcher Dr Aaron Knoll.

“Virtual Ride to Space will give all aspiring astronauts the chance to be a virtual passenger, riding the balloon to space, and unlike other Galactic flights, it won’t cost the earth to be on board!”

To find out more about Virtual Ride to Space, or to make a donation, please visit Virtual Ride to Space.