The final frontier is about to go condo. That is, at least, the aim of Orion Span. The Silicon Valley-and-Houston-based firm is planning Aurora Station, outer space’s first hotel-condo. The project, currently slated to see its first visitors in 2022, will house four guests and two crew and will give anyone willing to plunk down US$9.5-million per person the full astronaut experience for 12 days in outer space.
“Out of the 8,000 people who apply to be astronauts, we’re giving them all the chance to see what that life would be like,” says Orion Span CEO Frank Bunger, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and the driving force behind the venture.
The luxury space hotel will span 5,600 square feet and feature two suites that can be configured as four, each the size of a small bedroom. There’ll be no gravity, and guests will shower and use the bathroom just like astronauts on the International Space Station. So get comfortable showering out of large plastic bags.
Recognizing that the main reason one would spend the price of a Tuscan villa for two weeks in space is to send selfies back to Earth, Bunger says high-speed WiFi will be plentiful.
“Everyone is going to want to chat with colleagues back home,” he says. “So, we’ll have internet access through companies that do data uplink and downlink from space.”
Aurora Station will orbit 320 kilometres above the Earth, doing a complete lap around the planet every 90 minutes. Meaning that in addition to bird’s-eye views of the Northern and Southern lights, guests will see 16 sunrises and sunsets every day.
But 12 days is a long time, which raises the question: What will one do once the novelty of watching 16 sunsets wears off and the nearest bar is a long, expensive rocket ride away? Bunger says not to worry – in space nobody gets bored.
“We talked to previous space tourists, they said 10 days aboard the space station was not enough,” he says. “It’s an astronaut experience, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to do research projects, or stare out the window. Training will account for two to three hours a day. Factor in calling friends on Earth and time will fly by.”
There’ll also be a virtual-reality holodeck, to put guests in the middle of their own science-fiction fantasy. Food will be a cut above the freeze-dried ice cream astronauts eat, as Orion Span plans to partner with chefs and restaurants to find a middle ground between space food and what we have on Earth.
“Cooking in zero gravity is a special challenge,” Bunger says. “There’s a real safety challenge but we’ll give them as luxurious a taste as possible, that’s still safe on board.”
Guests will undergo a three-month Orion Span Astronaut Certification program as part of the experience, effectively certifying them for most future space travel. The first phase will be an online training course covering space-life basics such as eating and using the bathroom. The second will take place at the company’s Houston headquarters, a sort of streamlined Space Camp for the super-wealthy. The third will be on-the-job training aboard Aurora Station. Bunger likens it to scuba certification, with theoretical classroom work followed by practical application.
The hotel experience is just the beginning, though, as Bunger says Aurora Station has been designed to add more space as popularity grows.
“In the future we’ll look to sell parts of the station, so people can visit or lease out the capacity or live there,” he says. “It’s like a condo concept, that’s the idea behind it.”
Orion Span is planning to partner with Elon Musk’s SpaceX as well as other private space transportation companies to get their guests to Aurora Station. This, after SpaceX announced last year it would be shuttling private citizens around the moon by the end of 2018. Not to be outdone, British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic had its first successful launch of the VSS Unity this month in California’s Mojave Desert. Virgin ultimately aims to run commercial space flights for tourists, another potential transit partner for Orion Span.
Aurora Station isn’t the only space hotel in the works, either. Much like they raced the United States to space in the 1960s, so is Russia racing America to space tourism. The Russian Space Agency announced plans last year for a luxury orbital suite at the International Space Station, that guests could rent out for a mere US$40-million a week.
Compared with $40-million, Aurora Station’s $9.5-million price tag doesn’t seem quite so staggering. Orion Span is currently taking US$80,000 refundable deposits to hold a room for 2022. A discount vacation it’s not, but the lucky few who can afford it will be the envy of even the most experienced travellers. And give them a chance to see space before it becomes a giant, weightless Florida.