- The first luxury space hotel could be operational as early as 2021
- How much interest will there be at $800,000 a night?
- With Orion Span, you’ll be able to experience what it feels like to be an astronaut
- The project has attracted a considerable skepticism, too
Until recently, the idea of space tourism has been consigned to the realm of science fiction. It’s not that space is unachievable, but rather that when we did finally manage to leave Earth, the experience was reserved for a handful of highly trained professionals. We simply didn’t have the technology to make space tourism possible. But as private launch companies like SpaceX demonstrate, that may no longer be the case. Pretty soon, everyone might be able to experience what it feels like to be an astronaut.
The first luxury space hotel could be operational as early as 2021
The Houston-based space tech startup Orion Span Inc. recently announced plans to launch a luxury space hotel into low-Earth orbit by 2021. The Aurora Station will be 10 metres long and 4 metres wide, with a pressurised volume of 160 cubic metres, nearly six times smaller than the International Space Station. These tight quarters will be able to accommodate up to six people - four tourists and two crew members - in private suites. And if everything goes according to plan, the space hotel will be ready to welcome its first guests by 2022. “We want to get people into space because it’s the final frontier for our civilization,” said Frank Bunger, Orion Span’s founder and chief executive officer.
The Aurora Station is modular and can be subsequently expanded if necessary. However, it was designed to be operational as soon as the first module reaches orbit. “It’s a single-module space station. It’s turnkey in operations,” explains Bunger. “When you launch it, it’s immediately in service. It’s not something where you launch bits and pieces and assemble them or inflate them.” In addition to space tourism, the company also plans to lease capacity on the station for a wide variety of low-Earth orbit missions, including microgravity research, in-space manufacturing, and space hardware validation. “Our goal is to make space accessible to all, by continuing to drive greater value at a lower cost,” added Bunger.
How much interest will there be at $800,000 a night?
According to Bunger, NASA receives more than 18,000 astronaut applications every year, so there’s obviously a lot of interest in space tourism. “We’re not selling a hey-let’s-go-to-the-beach equivalent in space,” said Bunger. “We’re selling the experience of being an astronaut. You reckon that there are people who are willing to pay to have that experience.”
The company announced that guests will be able to secure a 12-day stay for $9.5 million, which works out to almost $800,000 per night. Those who are interested can already reserve their spot with an $80,000 deposit, which will be held in escrow so it’s fully refundable. And although that can’t be considered cheap by any stretch of the imagination, it’s considerably more ‘economical’ than competing offers. For example, Russia’s luxury hotel module for the ISS will require guests to pay around $40 million for a two-week stay, while Bigelow Aerospace hasn’t disclosed the actual price yet but said it would probably be in the low eight figures.
With Orion Span, you’ll be able to experience what it feels like to be an astronaut
Before you book your flight, keep in mind that Orion Span’s space tourists will have to go through three months of training before they are cleared for the journey. But that’s a lot shorter than the two years astronauts endure! The training will include online courses where space tourists will be taught about basic spaceflight, orbital mechanics, and pressurised environments.
Once they reach the station, they will be able to experience zero gravity, see what the Earth looks like from 320 kilometres in orbit, watch the aurora borealis, witness 16 sunrises and sunsets per day, grow food in space and take it back home with them, play on the holodeck, and even live stream with their family and friends. When the time comes to return home, a hero’s welcome will await them.
The project has attracted considerable skepticism, too
However, there is a lot of skepticism surrounding the project. “The commercialization of LEO (low Earth orbit) is an exciting prospect, but it will be an exercise in determining what ideas are more real than others,” said Phil Larson, assistant dean and chief of staff at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science and a former SpaceX employee. Fact can be hard to separate from fiction and hopeful imagination when it comes to space.
For instance, Orion Span is still looking for funding sources, but they haven’t revealed how much money they are aiming for or how much they’ve been able to raise so far. “We are getting some interest and are looking for the right firm to partner with for funding,” said Bunger. “We want to look for someone who is not looking for a quick flip. It’s going to have to be for the long haul.”
They also haven’t found a launch provider yet, but they hope they’ll be able to entice someone to offer them a ride either for free or at a lower price in exchange for capacity on the station. Not much is known about their technology either, but Bunger claims that they have developed proprietary systems that allow them to significantly reduce the costs of sending people into space. He’s also made sure the station is compatible with various launch platforms, including SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Arianespace. The recent rise of rocket launch companies like SpaceX has significantly reduced the cost of sending stuff into orbit and it’s precisely the falling launch prices that allows Orion Span to drop the price to less than $10 million per person, says Bunger.
Another cause for concern is that the Houston factory where the company is supposed to build the station hasn’t been built yet, though Bunger claims the matter will be taken care of within the next nine months. He has no spaceflight experience whatsoever, having worked in management and engineering positions at several tech companies. But some of the people at his company are former NASA employees, including the chief architect and operating and chief technical officers.
In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of companies enter the commercial space tourism arena, but none of those projects have fully materialised yet. While some doubts about the whole concept still persist, it seems to be only a matter of when, not if, space tourism will become a reality. It’s entirely possible that your next holiday will be in space!