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How Zephalto and Joseph Dirand created a spacecraft with stellar interior design

Zephalto CEO Vincent Farret d’Astiès has enlisted French super-designer Joseph Dirand to collaborate on their extraordinary stratospheric space travel capsule, Céleste

Imagine kicking back on the sofa after dinner – Michelin-starred – in a room inspired by Palais Bulles, and gazing out over the curvature of the earth from the very edge of space. Such is the vision of Zephalto CEO Vincent Farret d’Astiès – and he’s enlisted A-list French interior designer Joseph Dirand to help bring it to life. The result is Céleste – a space capsule currently in the test-flight phase, but sufficiently confident of its commercial launch that it has started taking reservations for 2024 (book here if you have the requisite €120,000 per person).

Balloon of the Zephalto Céleste space capsule in Effect Magazine
A balloon the size of the Sacré Coeur in Paris lifts the Céleste capsule into the stratosphere, to the very edge of space

And it’s worth taking a moment to consider just how ground-breaking a proposition this is. Unlike the various private space-travel initiatives currently in the offing – principally, Virgin Galactic – Céleste offers an altogether more relaxed and contemplative experience. No training required, no jet or rocket engines, no helmets or flight-suits – just a serene ascent to the stratosphere over dinner amid world-class decor and the ability to savour, in silence, the stars as you’ve never seen them before. And while Farret d’Astiès and his company Zephalto are the driving force behind the project, their partnership with CNES taps into the deep experience of France’s national space agency.

We sat down with aeronautical engineer, founder and chief pilot Farret d’Astiès to find out more about their plans for Zephalto and their collaboration with designer Joseph Dirand.

What were your design influences for the passenger areas of the capsule?
Joseph Dirand set his work for Céleste upon three pillars: the experience, a formal simplicity, and functionality. He wanted to create a space of comfort where you would feel welcomed. His desire was to design a minimalistic environment that would enhance your experience without distracting you from the view. He described his mindset as ‘pure and humble’ during the process in which he integrated the luxury aspect into a design filled with soft curves and creamy colours. Dirand also wanted to keep the interior as a home-like environment, not too futuristic, into which he could incorporate his desire to make you feel comfortable.

The pressurised space cabin of Céleste, the Zephalto stratospheric balloon - Effect Magazine
The pressurised space cabin of Céleste, the Zephalto stratospheric balloon

People have an expectation of what space travel looks like that has been formed by various sources including 20th-century cinema, designers like Vernor Panton and Eero Saarinen, and even Pierre Cardin. Have any of these influences contributed to the interior of Céleste?
To shape the experience of this capsule, Joseph Dirand and his team have been influenced by all the different space ideas from the 1960s and 70s spread by architecture, design, cartoons, and movies such as Pierre Paulin, Palais Bulles – Pierre Cardin’s house by Antti Lovag – and more.

How has design met the challenges of finding the balance between the experience you would like to offer passengers and the practical limitations of the capsule?
First of all, Joseph Dirand and his team work hand-in-hand with Zephalto engineers to fit design inspiration with technical constraints. Céleste capsule finally answers luxury, simple and comfortable design with all security and technical standards, requirements and needs. When first designing the capsule, Dirand was faced with a major task as the interior design is very challenging, because you are playing with such a small amount of elements and there is an infinity of possibilities.

Guests can be served Michelin-starred cuisine while admiring the incredible views during the serene ascension to the stratosphere in the Céleste space capsule - Effect Magazine
Guests can be served Michelin-starred cuisine while admiring the incredible views during the serene ascent to the stratosphere in the Céleste space capsule

With the idea in mind to ‘create the maximum with the minimum’, he wanted to make a residential-like environment. He designed a luxurious but highly comfortable environment, and created a space where you would feel at home, where you would just want to lay down while enjoying the spectacular scenery. And to observe the landscape introducing the widest windows possible, in order to make the experience even more enjoyable.

Interior designer Joseph Dirand, designer of Céleste and aeronautical engineer Vincent Farret d'Astiès, founder and CEO of Zephalto – Effect Magazine
Interior designer Joseph Dirand (left), designer of Céleste and aeronautical engineer Vincent Farret d’Astiès (right), founder and CEO of Zephalto

What is the ultimate destination? Could the size increase to support a small hotel?
Céleste could already be a small hotel. You can come with your loved one, your kids, or your entire family (there is a maximum of six guests). The journey is personalised according to guests’ desires, needs and dreams – Zephalto will work on the experiences to answer their requests as much as possible. Also, the capsule can be privatised. While the first trips will last six hours, Zephalto is already working on new technologies that will enable us to stay longer in the stratosphere, allowing guests to spend one or more nights aboard. Nevertheless, in simple terms, the bigger the load, the bigger the balloon needs to be. The envelope of Céleste is already 150,000m3 (5,300,000 cubic feet) lifting a 20sqm (215 square feet) capsule.

Could the future also hold using Céleste to combine a journey to the stratosphere with landing on a different continent?
The first year will take off from France, but Zephalto is already working on implementing several spaceports in the world to get closer to its guests. Zephalto is working on longer trips, and therefore Céleste could open up several possibilities.

You have described Zephalto’s flight as a contemplative experience. How is the capsule’s design enhancing or supporting this?
From the beginning, the whole process and mindset of Joseph Dirand was to very discreetly enhance the experience. Design is serving the experience. One special feature that we are proud of are the incredibly wide windows, the biggest in the market. Created like an eye, they align with the curved design of the capsule. Combined with the very comfortable and luxurious cocoons, these windows allow the guests to make the most of the experience, seamlessly gazing upon the 1400km-wide panorama, and enjoying the gentle ascension.

Read more:  Interior Designers I Interiors | Aviation | Design | Mid-Century | France | The High Life