The United States has Cape Canaveral, Canada has Montreal, and France has the Occitanie region. It’s in this French region that one finds Aerospace Valley, a business cluster of hundreds of aviation research and engineering companies and the center of Europe’s aerospace industry. So it makes sense that it’s here that Vincent Farret d’Astiès would choose to found Zephalto, a luxury space travel company. “My initial dream was to offer serenity and a very personal relationship between space and the passengers on board,” Farret d’Astiès tells Architectural Digest. He hoped to bring space travel to the public—infused with a flare of French art de vivre—in a way that worked in harmony with nature, not against it. Less than a decade later, that fantasy will soon be a reality: Zephalto plans to embark on its first passengered, low-carbon voyage by the end of 2024.
To help carry guests to the stars, Farret d’Astiès tapped Joseph Dirand, AD100 architect and interior designer based in Paris, to conceptualize Celeste, the company’s first spacecraft. “I have an appetite for new challenges and [I’m] passionate about hospitality, so I was extremely excited about being a part of it,” Dirand says. “When he came to the office to present the project, it was not designed in terms of aesthetic or even experience, but it was engineered.” Unlike a rocket ship, Celeste is a pressurized capsule that is lifted into the sky by a stratospheric balloon. Though this one is the size of Sacré Coeur, it is similar in concept to a hot air balloon, only it’s designed to travel into the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. According to Farret d’Astiès, who is an aeronautical engineer and pilot, the mechanics of the vessel are both simpler than rockets and airplanes and safer for passengers.
“Since it’s a balloon and not a rocket, the question became, ‘How do we dress it? How do we style it?’” Dirand explains, “We wanted the experience to feel residential, not like a spaceship.” And because he didn’t want to detract from the cosmic scenery, it was important to create something minimalistic and serene that would only reinforce the real attraction of the experience. “It had to be extremely pure and humble,” he says.
The finished interiors are polished and unpretentious, full of soft curves swaddled in creams and whites. Inviting textures, like carpets along the floors and upholstered couches, make the space feel like somewhere you’d take off your shoes and kick back to watch a show—a particularly welcome option if the performance is a transformative ascension into outer space that offers an ethereal view of the planet from miles above its surface. “It’s full of these organic shapes, but of course the main scenery isn’t the design, but what you’re doing,” Dirand says.
When planning the layout, privacy and flexibility were of particular importance for Dirand. The vessel can accommodate up to six people and two pilots, and he wanted to give those onboard the opportunity to experience the once-in-a-lifetime trip in ways that felt most comfortable to them. “The capsule is shaped like a round triangle,” Dirand explains. Inside, it’s separated into three private cabins, allowing pairs to branch off as appropriate. “But all of the rooms connect to a central space, so if you travel with friends or family you can also open the doors and come together,” he explains.
Because both the capsule as a whole and individual cabins have such a compact footprint—the smallest capsule Dirand has ever designed—the challenge was determining what fundamental elements should be included in the limited space. To frame the ever-changing landscape, each cabin is defined by an oversized oval window (those on Celeste offer the widest view of the stratosphere of any spacecraft currently on the market). Custom built-in couches—with a detachable ottoman and small table—hug the curved walls, making it possible to sit or lie down in various combinations throughout the flight. “The idea is that you can be close to the window or also move back for some distance, so you don’t feel trapped in a cell,” Dirand says.
Each flight takes six hours, during which time the capsule will climb 15.5 miles above the Earth’s surface. On board, guests receive tailored offerings, including the opportunity for Michelin-starred cuisine. The experience will cost $129,237 per person, and a limited number of presale tickets are already available to purchase.
With the maiden flight expected in a year and half from now, Dirand and Farret d’Astiès assure that the timeline is realistic despite how it may appear to some. “When I first started talking with Vincent, I was thinking, This is amazing, but that’s gonna take forever,” Dirand says. But because the basic engineering that powers the aircraft has existed for decades, the company has been able to make progress quickly.
Now that the design is complete, Zephalto is focused on building Celeste and receiving final certifications. “Each provider has been selected, and each [one of them] is ready and beginning work,” Farret d’Astiès says. “And we’ve already performed test flights.” For Dirand, he’s looking forward to the role his design will ultimately play in travelers’ journey. “It will be the most magical moment in people’s lives,” he says. “So we put in maximum effort to ensure they get the best comfort and beauty.”
This article originally appeared on Architectural Digest.