Kuang-Chi Science Limited, a Shenzhen-based tech company, has drawn comparisons in Chinese media to Elon Musk’s SpaceX for its ambitious projects, ranging from exoskeleton power suits to spacecraft.

While the company, founded in 2010, has yet to hold a flame to the achievements of SpaceX, they are attacking innovation with the hold-your-breath-optimisim that has become typical of China’s new tech companies.

Their latest bet? A near space tourism project that will involve sending paid customers almost 79,000 ft. (24km) above the earth’s service in a balloon aircraft dubbed the ‘Traveler Beta II.’

Traveler II Beta's main subsystems have been completed and are in the final stage of assembly and testing. (PRNewsFoto/Kuang-Chi Group)
Traveler II Beta’s main subsystems have been completed and are in the final stage of assembly and testing, according to the company. (PRNewsFoto/Kuang-Chi Group)

The company has already committed to a manned flight of the aircraft within the next two years, though in an announcement made on Tuesday, they revealed test flights involving animals would be run much sooner – this year.

In a release, KuangChi Science Limited said the aircraft is “in the final stage of assembly and cabin tests are expected to be completed by the end of 2016 with flight tests beginning in 2017,” suggesting the animal passengers will be involved in cabin tests.

The aircraft has already completed a successful, unmanned flight 21km above the earth’s surface over New Zealand, according to the company. This is within the zone classified as ‘near space’, which is a region 20-100km above the earth’s surface that is subject to highly variable atmospheric conditions.

KuangChi Science Limited, which is the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of parent company Kuang-Chi, doesn’t appear to be suffering from too many budgeting constraints in their R&D. The company unveiled a $1.5 billion USD plan to build a space travel theme park in the city of Hangzhou (Alibaba’s home town), which will feature simulations of their proposed tourist aircraft.

Technology-themed amusement parks are popular play in China when it comes to introducing consumers to cutting edge technology. Last month internet company LeEco announced plans for a autonomous driving ‘experience’ park as part of a $3 billion USD production plant.

Currently, most of KuangChi Science Limited’s revenue comes from their initial commercialization project, a space platform called ‘Cloud’, which manages data collection, analysis, internet access and other communication services, according to the company.

Title Image: A concept image of KuangChi Science Limited’s near space tourist balloon.

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or catecadell@technode.com