The Next Big Thing In Space Tourism? A Weightless Night’s Sleep
The Russians are launching a project for a commercial space station with a hotel that will supposedly be ready for occupancy by 2016. Guests would pass the night very much under the stars - at 350 kilometers above the Earth.
Russia has an ambitious plan for a tourist hotel in space. Orbital Technologies and RKK Energija are unveiling plans for it this week at the International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS) taking place from Aug. 16 to 21 in Moscow. A Soyuz rocket is supposed to launch the "Commercial Space Station" (CSS) - where the hotel would be located - into space.
Orbital Technologies, a Russian firm, is expecting that, by the latest 2016, guests will be able to move into the four double rooms situated 350 km above the earth. This is also the altitude at which the International Space Station (ISS) orbits the earth. "The project should encourage investors to invest in Russian space travel," said Vitaly Davidov, deputy head of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.
The CSS could also be used to conduct experiments under conditions of weightlessness. And it could also provide refuge for ISS astronauts in case of emergency. The ISS has several times been threatened by possible collisions with manmade space debris. Crews have had to be evacuated to the space ship docked at the station. Thus far, however, no collisions have actually taken place.
The model at the aviation and space fair is based on computer–aided designs of the hotel. That the project could be ready to go by 2016 is the subject of some doubt, particularly as it is another in a series of announced plans - and not just by the Russians - for space hotels that so far have not been implemented.
In the United States, for example, there is the project involving Boeing in Seattle, Washington, and Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, Nevada, which signed a contract to build an "inflatable hotel" in space, based on NASA research conducted in the late 1990s. Plans foresaw a metal frame construction that opened up in space and over which a cover was stretched – it would have provided 11 cubic meters of room.
From Budget Suites to the stars
Five years ago, a Russian rocket launched the experimental Bigelow "Genesis I" into orbit at an altitude of 450 km. The frame and cover folded out, as did a solar module to provide electrical energy for the habitat. A second habitat, "Genesis II," was successfully launched in 2007.
Now company owner Robert Bigelow, who made his fortune with the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, is looking ahead to the launch in 2014 of a more fully developed space module called "Sundancer." The tubular module will measure 6.3 meters in diameter and be 8.7 meters long.
If the unit, which can hold three to six people, withstands months of testing, non-professional astronauts will soon be able to visit. That, however, will depend on whether the space transporter on which the station relies is also ready to go by 2014.
Another player, at least verbally, in the development of space hotels was the Hilton Group. In 1999, it expressed interest in buying used external space shuttle tanks from NASA, joining them together in a ring in space, and equipping them as hotel rooms. However, NASA couldn't free up any tanks to sell them, and the Hilton plans (which some believe were never more than a public relations stunt anyway) were shelved.
Plans were announced in 2001 by MirCorp, a Russian firm, to build a cosmic hotel by 2004 – but the project never got past the announcement phase. Nor has anything further been heard from Spanish entrepreneur Xavier Claramunt, who years ago announced his "Galactic Suite" project. The Japanese construction company Shimizu, which was saying a decade ago it would be opening a space hotel in 2017, is leaving the project open on its website but making the realization of it contingent on whether or not a "low-cost fully reusable space vehicle is successfully developed."
Markedly more realistic than hotel-building plans are those for tourist space flights to an altitude of 110 km. The Virgin Galactic flights, which would last around an hour, could start leaving from Spaceport America in New Mexico as soon as 2013. Cost of a flight per passenger is 140,000 euros.
Read the original article in German
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