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© Photo Courtesy of Orbital Technologies

Space hotel race blasts off

by Oleg Nikishenkov at 11/10/2010 19:47

In October 1987, the famously bearded rockers of ZZ Top optimistically made advance bookings for a passenger flight to the moon. Twenty-three years later, the band is still playing gigs in Moscow, but they haven’t got their space flight yet.


And while ZZ Top may still be howling at the moon, a Russian company could be about to make the rockers’ dream come true – at least in terms of flying them to the first-ever space hotel.


Sergei Kostenko, president of Orbital Technologies, said his company will launch a space hotel as soon as 2015.


Kostenko also heads the Moscow office of Space Adventures, a US company that has already sent seven tourists to the International Space Station (ISS).


“The Orbital Techologies team is in charge of generating investments, while the technical side of the project is in the hands of the Rocket and Space Energia Corporation,” said Kostenko. “The Federal Space Agency is supporting the project with certification and permission.”


While living in space has long been the subject of sci-fi novels, Kostenko believes his project can finally make off-world living a reality.


“The idea has long been hovering in our minds,” he said. “It will be a station that will serve as a space hotel and an orbiting laboratory.”


The space businessman explained that the ISS will remain mainly as a professional station for scientific research. His project is targeted at tourism, as well as media projects and research for businesses and private individuals.


“We already have clients,” Kostenko said, without elaborating whether ZZ Top figure among them.


Rocket launch

Tourist Anousheh Ansari, who blasted into space in 2006, in training © RIA Novosti. / Sergey Kazak
Tourist Anousheh Ansari, who blasted into space in 2006, in training © RIA Novosti. / Sergey Kazak


Russian rockets are likely to be used to take passengers to the new space hotel as America’s shuttle comes to the end of its lifespan.
The current workhorses of the ISS – the Soyuz rocket and Progress cargo ship, built by Russian firm Energia – are likely to remain in operation.


Alexander Derechin, deputy chief engineer at Energia, told Reuters that private investors have pledged to commit between $100 million and $1 billion to the Commercial Space Station.


Kostenko said he considers it premature to comment on the financial indicators of the project as the market could change rapidly once sales start.


Space race

US space tourist Richard Garriott gets ready for training © RIA Novosti. / Sergey Kazak
US space tourist Richard Garriott gets ready for training © RIA Novosti. / Sergey Kazak


Orbital Technologies already has a rival ready to take-off in the tourism space race – US-based Bigelow Aerospace. Founded by Robert Bigelow, a billionaire hotelier and developer from Las Vegas, the company claims it will launch an expandable module-type space hotel within the coming year.


Orbital, meanwhile, is trying to attract space seekers from around the world, and has designed its hotel to accommodate up to seven people. It also has four docking points so it can receive Russian, American, Chinese and other types of spacecraft.


Igor Afanasyev, an analyst with CosmoWorld.ru, an online space news service, said this diversification makes sense, as the space hotel idea cannot rely only on Russian tourists.


“In Russia even wealthy people are much more pragmatic, and it won’t be easy to find someone who will pay $20 million to fly into orbit,” said Afanasyev. “Besides, you won’t be the first, second or even fifth space tourist, and in terms of your personal image such a flight does not add anything for you.”


And the cost of flights could be even more expensive that expected.


“The key problem is on-orbit delivery of astronauts and cargo,” said Afanasyev. “One hotel business estimates that it can accommodate a lot of tourists, meaning that a high frequency of flights is required, while now, neither the Russians, nor the Americans nor the Chinese can offer this.”

 

A shortage of manned spacecraft is another problem, and analysts say that manned shuttles will have to be brought back.

Guy Laliberte, the owner of Cirque de Soleil, prepares for lift-off with Jeffrey Williams and Maxim Surayev © RIA Novosti. / Mikhail Fomichev
Guy Laliberte, the owner of Cirque de Soleil, prepares for lift-off with Jeffrey Williams and Maxim Surayev © RIA Novosti. / Mikhail Fomichev


Kostenko, however, argued that both Russian and international market players such as Boeing, SpaceX and Orbital Space are creating a new  generation of reusable vehicles that will come into operation around 2015-16.


China is also turning its hand to space exploration and could provide an extra level of competition.


End of the ISS?

 


The ISS could be terminated as soon as 2015, and this will increase demand for the private sector.


If they get their dream flight, the ZZ Top rockers are probably going to have to fork out some serious cash to stay in a space hotel. The ISS space tourists spent between $30 million and $40 million per flight.


Private companies could offer suborbital flights on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere for around $100,000 a pop.

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