Tired of your ordinary earthly vacations? Someday soon you might be able to board a rocket and get a room with a view – of the whole planet – from a hotel in space.
At least, that is the sales pitch of several companies racing to become the first to host guests in orbit on purpose-built space stations. “It sounds kind of crazy to us today because it is not a reality yet,” says Frank Bunger, founder of US aerospace firm Orion Span, one of the companies vying to take travellers out of this world.
“But that’s the nature of these things, it sounds crazy until it is normal.”
US multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the world’s first paying space tourist in 2001, travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for a reported $20 million.
Since then, companies like Boeing, SpaceX and Blue Origin have been working on ways to bring the stars into reach for more people – opening up a new business frontier for would-be space hoteliers.
US space agency NASA announced in June that it plans to allow two private citizens a year to stay at the ISS at a cost of about $35,000 per night for up to a month. The first mission could be as early as 2020.
But the growing movement has raised questions about the adequacy of current space laws, which mainly deal with exploration and keeping space free of weapons, not hotels and holidaymakers.
“It is difficult now to want to do things in space and get a clear answer from (space law),” says Christopher Johnson, a space law adviser at the Secure World Foundation, a space advocacy group.
“For something as advanced as hotels in space there is no clear guidance.”
Orion Span plans to host the first guests on its Aurora Station by 2024, says Mr Bunger. Accompanied by a crew member, up to five travellers at a time would fly up to the station for a 12-day stay costing at least $9.5 million per head.
In orbit, guests would take part in scientific experiments, enjoy 16 sunrises and sunsets a day and play table tennis in zero gravity, he says.
About 30 people have already put down a $80,000 deposit to save a seat.
“We haven’t seen this kind of excitement about space since the Apollo era,” Mr Bunger says.
Californian company the Gateway Foundation is hoping to build a massive space station able to sleep more than 400 people – including tourists, researchers, doctors and housekeepers.
Solar-powered and shaped like a wheel, the station will spin around its core to create artificial gravity on its perimeter, equal to about one-sixth of that on earth, says its architect Tim Alatorre.
“The problem is that you can only spin so fast before you start feeling sick,” he says. “We could easily create earth gravity on the station by spinning it faster but you wouldn’t be very comfortable.”
The group aims to complete the station, named after Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi rocket scientist who later worked on the US Apollo program, by 2028.
Without disclosing how much a space holiday will cost, Mr Alatorre says the goal is to make the station accessible to the everyday person.
“So somebody can save up and go on a vacation to the United States or they can save up and go on a vacation to space,” he says.
Yet that could take time to become a reality, says Lucy Berthoud, a space engineering professor at Britain’s University of Bristol.
“The launch cost is the bottleneck for anyone who is doing this kind of enterprise,” she says.
For example, NASA is expected to pay more than $50 million per seat to launch astronauts into space with Boeing and SpaceX rockets.
“It will take an increase in competition between launchers and a jump in technology to significantly lower costs,” Ms Berthoud says.
In recent years, several companies have failed to live up to their pledges to host guests on orbiting hotels by now.