Luxury Space Hotel Could Cater To Travellers By 2022

Soon after launch in 2021, the startup Orion Span hopes to send up extraterrestrial condos to capitalise on open space.

With all the madness going on here on Earth, have you ever thought about going into space? Well, for a couple million dollars, you might be able to check off that bucket list-worthy to-do in the next four years.

Orion Span, a Houston-based space tech startup, has announced plans to launch the first-ever luxury space hotel into Earth's orbit by 2021. The company says the so-called Aurora Station will be ready to accommodate visitors the following year. 

The price of a ticket for a 12-day stay will be $9.5 million USD per person, which comes to $791,666 per night.

Not Your Average Space Stay

Orion Span has yet to contract with a launch provider to put future visitors—and the station—into orbit. In the past, private citizens have been sent to the International Space Station on $20-to-40-million round-trip tickets, but according to Frank Bunger, the company's founder and CEO, Orion Span's trips are less expensive because of declining launch prices. Right now, prospective flyers can put down an $80,000 refundable deposit for future stays.

"Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travellers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before," Bunger says in a statement. "Our goal is to make space accessible to all, by continuing to drive greater value at a lower cost."

The hotel, which is slated for launch into low Earth orbit (LEO) at around 200 miles from the Earth's surface, will be about the size of the cabin of a large private jet. Company representatives say it will be roughly 43 ½ feet long by 14 feet wide, with a pressurized volume of 5,650 cubic feet. By comparison, the ISS is much larger, at 357 feet long, an internal pressurized volume of 32,33 cubic feet, and soars 250 miles above Earth. 

Completed, Aurora Station will be fully modular and host six people at a time with private, two-person suites. Four of those people will be guests and two will be crewmembers who are most likely former astronauts, the company says. With the help of engineers who have worked on the ISS, the hotel is currently in construction in Housten, while Orion Span develops software for it in the Bay Area.

Aboard the station, travellers will roam freely in zero gravity, while orbiting the planet every 90 minutes. They can take in the sights, which will include about 16 sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours, through the station's many windows and get a virtual reality experience on the ship's "holodeck." Guests will also get the chance to participate in research experiments like growing edible plants—which can be taken home as souvenirs—and livestream with people back home via high-speed wireless Internet. 

"We're not selling a hey-let's-go-to-the-beach equivalent in space," Bunger tells Bloomberg. "We're selling the experience of being an astronaut."

Historically, space travellers start preparations 24 months in advance, but Bunger says Orion Span has cut down this orientation to three months. The Orion Span Astronaut Certification (OSAC) will include a condensed version of online and in-person training at the company's facility in Houston, with final certification aboard the Aurora Station. 

Upon returning to Earth, guests "will be treated to a hero's welcome home," the company says.

Outerspace Condos

Orion Span will likely cater to private space tourists as well as government space agencies, Bunger says. A serial entrepreneur and former software engineer, Bunger has worked on other startups in the past, in addition to the seven-person Orion Span team. Combined, the team members have more than 140 years of experience in space.

Orion Span isn't the first to look to the skies for entrepreneurial opportunity. Plans were recently announced for a four-room hotel addition to the ISS that would cost $40 million per person. The Texas-based Axiom Space has plans to take tourists to the ISS by next year and launch a commercial space station by 2024. Virgin Galactic, which said it would start sub-orbital space flights in 2009, is planning to charge $250,000 for future extraterrestrial trips. (Related: "Falcon Heavy Rocket Makes History With Successful First Launch")

"The commercialization of LEO is an exciting prospect, but it will be an exercise in determining what ideas are more real than others," Phil Larson, assistant dean and chief of staff at University of Colorado Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science, tells Bloomberg. Larson previously served on Elon Musk's SpaceX team and in the Obama White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

If Aurora Station is successful, the company wants to launch identical modules and build a private space station. Long-term, the vision is to sell space.

"We will later sell dedicated modules as the world's first condominiums in space," Bunger adds. "Future Aurora owners can live in, visit, or sublease their space condo."

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Lead Image: A sunrise over the blue planet taken from the International Space Station. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NASA

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