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 AD. 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.