WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
As the cost of getting to space falls, and access to space becomes more democratised, it will eventually become a tourist destination.
Well heeled space tourists will have a new orbital holiday destination four years from now, that is if one company’s plans come to fruition, and I use the word “holiday” loosely because this will be no beach side retreat, after a startup called Orion Span announced plans to put its Aurora Station hotel into low Earth orbit in 2021 and start taking guests as early as 2022.
“We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel,” said Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger, who unveiled the Aurora Station idea at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California.
Out of this world
“Affordable” though is a relative term – a 12 day stay aboard Aurora Station will start at $9.5 million. Still, that’s quite a bit less than orbital tourists have paid in the past. From 2001 through 2009, for example, seven private citizens took a total of eight trips to the International Space Station (ISS), paying an estimated $20 million to $40 million each. These private missions were brokered by the Virginia based company Space Adventures and used Russian Soyuz spacecraft and rockets.
“There’s been innovation around the architecture to make [the hotel] more modular, simpler to use and for it to have more automation, so we don’t have to have EVAs [Extravehicular Activities] or spacewalks,” said Bunger. “The goal when we started the company was to make everything as simple as possible, and by making simplicity possible, we drive a tremendous amount of cost out of it.”
Orion Span is building Aurora Station itself, and the company, some of whose key engineering partners have helped design and operate the ISS, is first making the hotel in Houston and developing the software required to run it in California.
Aurora Station will be about the size of a large private jet’s cabin, measuring 43.5 feet long by 14.1 feet wide (13.3 by 4.3 meters) and feature a pressurized volume of 5,650 cubic feet (160 cubic m). For comparison, the ISS is 357 feet (109 m) long and has an internal pressurized volume of 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic m).
The private hotel will orbit at an altitude of 200 miles (320 kilometers), which is a bit lower than the ISS that orbits at around 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, and at the moment it’s still unclear how Aurora Station and its future occupants will get into orbit because so far the company doesn’t have any confirmed deals with launch providers.
Ultimately the plan is that the hotel will accommodate four paying guests and two crew members with the two latter personnel being former astronauts, said Bunger. Most of the guests will probably be private space tourists, at least initially, with government guests coming on board later on as the hotel gets bigger over time – that is, of course, if everything goes according to plan. As demand grows the company will then launch additional modules to link up with the original core outpost.
“Our long term vision is to sell actual space in those new modules,” he said. “We’re calling that a space condo. So, either for living or subleasing, that’s the future vision here — to create a long-term, sustainable human habitation in LEO [Low Earth Orbit].”
Orion Span isn’t alone in ambitions though, several other companies, including Axiom Space and Bigelow Aerospace, another provider to the ISS, also aim to launch commercial space stations in the next few years to meet anticipated demand from space tourists, national governments, researchers and private industry, while other private players, including Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, are developing the launch vehicles to take paying customers to and from suborbital space.
In the meantime, however, if you’ve got $80,000 to spare, you can put down a fully refundable deposit on an Aurora Station stay beginning today, and folks who fly will undergo a three-month training program, the last portion of which will occur aboard the space hotel itself, Bunger said. So what are you waiting for – get booking!