“Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”
– Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
Last year Danish architect Bjarke Ingels announced designs for a space simulation complex to be built near Dubai to mimic conditions on Mars to further boost “humanity’s march into space”. The project is called the Mars Science City. Billed as the world’s “most sophisticated building”, it will be built using 3D printing technology and house labs that perfectly imitate the conditions of the Red Planet, aided by the desert setting. The largest space simulation city ever, Mars Science City will span 17.5 hectares and be home to a team of scientists for a year in the hope of then developing the first settlement of Mars within the next 100 years.
Furthering the potential for the eventual mass exploration—and possible colonisation—of selected swaths of space, earlier this year the UK government’s Department of Transport announced that it had green-lighted the Space Industry Bill that allows “the first commercial space launch from UK soil”. This will enable private firms to build a facility and launch satellites from Britain. It also opens up the exciting possibility of the construction of spaceports.
But perhaps the most intriguing proposal for some galactic probing—and one that promises to be among the most immediately accessible to the public—takes the form a hotel. The celestial capsule, called the Aurora Station, is the brainchild of tech start-up Orion Span and is set to cost $135 million to build. The project was unveiled at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California, in April, and is set to open in 2022.
“Our goal is to make space accessible to all,” says CEO and founder of Orion Span, Frank Bunger. “Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travellers into space quickly and at a lower price point than ever seen before.”
A lower price point it may be, but it’ll still cost a mouth-watering million-plus bucks per night, with a likely minimum of a 12-night stay. Initially, there will be room for four guests and a couple of crew—likely former astronauts—all of whom will be able to experience zero gravity, freely floating about the hotel at will. They will orbit the Earth at 320km, every 90 minutes, taking in around 16 sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours. When first launched, the hotel will measure 35×14-feet, a comparable size to a Gulfstream Jet.
Other cool experiences include the chance to be involved with scientific research and even grow your own space food in the form of edible plants for the “ultimate souvenir” to show off upon your return to Earth. If you can’t wait that long, high-speed wireless internet means you can livestream with friends and family.
Bunger says that the architecture, designed by a group led by Fran Eichstadt, the main man behind the International Space Station Enterprise module, is such that capacity can be easily enhanced, meaning it can grow with market demand “like a city growing skyward on Earth”. Eventually, celestial apartments will be available, enabling owners to “live, visit, or sublease their space condo”.
Bunger adds that thanks to new rocket-launch companies that start up “almost every week” it’s becoming ever easier and cheaper to reach the stars, thus enabling projects such as his to develop. New Zealand too, has of course, played its part thanks to Rocket Lab who launched their first rocket earlier this year.
American businessman Dennis Tito became the first space tourist when he took a 2001 flight to the International Space Station, thought to have cost $29 million, followed by pioneers such as former Microsoft executive Charles Simoyi and Anousha Ansari, the first female space tourist. Richard Branson’s spaceflight company Virgin Galactic launched its first successful rocket in April, with the aim of eventually offering short tourist trips to the edge of space around 100km above the Earth for $360,000. The British businessman reckons to have already signed up the likes of Tom Hanks, Katy Perry and Leonardo DiCaprio for some high altitude star-gazing.
The Aurora Station space hotel, however, would be a world- (or galactic) first. “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.” Refundable deposits of $107,000 per person for stays at the space hotel are now being taken.
It would sure promise to be the ultimate in Instagram bragging rights.