How Close Are We to the First Space Hotel?
In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick, and writer Arthur C. Clarke were a bit optimistic. According to their predictions made in 1968, we should have returned to the Moon and had a “von Braun” space station orbiting the Earth – and we should have been ready to send our first expedition to Jupiter.
Now, 19 years after the time depicted in the movie (and the subsequent novel), we’re far from being the space-faring race Clarke and Kubrick imagined us to be. Humans never returned to the Moon, for one, and the only habitable object outside of our atmosphere is the International Space Station that only has space for a crew of six. But things are going to change pretty soon as we have several private companies working on making space tourism possible as we speak. So, how close are we to the first space hotel?
Manned private space flight
Right now, the only space agency capable of taking humans into orbit is Roscosmos. The Russian space administration uses its rockets to transport the crew of the ISS into space (and some space tourists, too). There are, in turn, at least two contenders who would like to snatch the contract from the Russians: SpaceX and Boeing, both working on launching their first manned missions as we speak.
Right now, SpaceX seems to be winning: it has successfully tested its Crew Dragon capsule twice. The first mission, last March, saw the Dragon V2 capsule reach the ISS, dock automatically, then return to Earth. The second was testing the abort protocols – these have to be activated if something goes wrong with the launch. SpaceX successfully passed this test, too, making its planned first manned Dragon launch possible. The mission is set to happen this April.
Habitats in orbit
While Boeing, SpaceX, and other companies are working on taking people into orbit, there are others who are planning on lodging them when they arrive.
A company called Orion Span has put forward a plan to build the first space hotel as early as next year. A vacation in orbit will be a bit pricey, though – the company plans to charge its patrons around $9.5 million for a 12-day stay on the Aurora Station.
Another aerospace company called Bigelow is at a much more advanced stage – it has already tested its solution with the ISS. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable module, has been attached to the space station in 2016 and is being tested as we speak – initially, it was sealed off from the rest of the station, then used as storage space. It is intended as a proof of concept for future inflatable space habitats – Bigelow plans to launch its standalone inflatable space station as soon as commercial human spaceflight becomes an option. And this will happen in the coming years.
Von Braun’s concept (left) and the Gateway Foundation’s plans (right)
Finally, let’s take a look at perhaps the most ambitious plan on creating habitable space for humans in orbit: the Von Braun Space Hotel proposed by the Gateway Foundation. If and when it will be launched, it will be a spaceport like you see in science fiction movies – a lot like the one described by Kubrick and Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It will be a huge spinning wheel (for artificial gravity) where tourists and scientists will be able to live and work together. How many, you might ask? Well, this is what makes the plan truly ambitious: the foundation plans to host a total of 450 people on board the space station, including 100 tourists a week.
The Gateway Foundation plans to finish the construction of the space station by 2027, complete with research labs, crew quarters, hotel rooms, and villas for those willing to reach deep into their pockets.
Commercial space flight is just around the corner – the crucial final test needed for it to be approved is just weeks away. If all goes well, all of the above – and more – could transition from science fiction to reality within a decade.