The fi­nal fron­tier for hos­pi­tal­ity

Orion Span aims to launch pay­ing guests in ‘first lux­ury ho­tel in space’ in 2022

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS INNOVATION - Justin Bach­man In Dal­las

Aboard the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS), an as­tro­naut’s life is typ­i­cally work, exercise, rest, re­peat. But what if your chance of hav­ing the right stuff for Nasa’s as­tro­naut corps is, to say the least, min­i­mal?

Au­rora Sta­tion, billed as the “first lux­ury ho­tel in space,” may be for you. Hous­ton-based Orion Span hopes to launch the mod­u­lar sta­tion in late 2021 and wel­come its first guests the fol­low­ing year, with two crew mem­bers ac­com­pa­ny­ing each ex­cur­sion. The plat­form would or­bit 200 miles above Earth, of­fer­ing six guests 384 sun­rises and sun­sets as they race around the planet for 12 days at in­cred­i­bly high speeds.

Once, such a thing would have been the stuff of fic­tion. Now, in the age of SpaceX, Blue Ori­gin, and Vir­gin Ga­lac­tic, the idea that a pri­vate com­pany would launch an or­bit­ing ho­tel seems al­most pedes­trian.

“We want to get peo­ple into space be­cause it’s the fi­nal fron­tier for our civil­i­sa­tion,” said Orion Span’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Frank Bunger, a former soft­ware en­gi­neer. Orion Span’s of­fer­ing won’t be for ev­ery­one, how­ever: Launch and re-en­try are not for the faint of heart.

“We’re not sell­ing a hey-let’s-go-to-the-beach equiv­a­lent in space,” Bunger said. “We’re sell­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing an as­tro­naut.”

Be­yond the phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions to em­bark­ing, there are also the fi­nan­cial ones. The 12-day stay starts at $9.5 mil­lion (€7.7 mil­lion) per per­son, or about €641,666 a night.

Re­fund­able de­posit

Au­rora Sta­tion is planned as a 35-by-14-foot mod­ule, or roughly the in­te­rior vol­ume of a Gulf­stream G550 pri­vate jet, ac­cord­ing to Bunger. The sta­tion would ac­com­mo­date as many as four guests, plus the two crew. The com­pany re­quires an $80,000 de­posit, which is fully re­fund­able, and be­gan ac­cept­ing pay­ments on Thurs­day.

Orion Span is as­sess­ing po­ten­tial fund­ing sources to get the en­deav­our off the ground, but won’t dis­close how much it wants to raise for the project, a spokes­woman said. It re­flects the type of com­mer­cial ven­ture that has be­come more com­mon over the past decade, fu­elled by de­creases in launch costs and an in­flux of ven­ture cap­i­tal. Since 2015, start-up space com­pa­nies have at­tracted $7.9 bil­lion in in­vest­ment, ac­cord­ing to Bryce Space and Tech­nol­ogy LLC, a con­sult­ing firm.

“The com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of Leo (Low Earth Or­bit) is an ex­cit­ing prospect, but it will be an exercise in de­ter­min­ing what ideas are more real than oth­ers,” said Phil Lar­son, a former space pol­icy ad­viser to pres­i­dent Barack Obama who worked for Elon Musk’s SpaceX. He is now as­sis­tant dean and chief of staff at the Univer­sity of Colorado at Boul­der’s Col­lege of En­gi­neer­ing and Ap­plied Science.

Orion Span has yet to con­tract with a launch provider, ei­ther for its ini­tial flights to build the sta­tion or for cus­tomer flights. The start-up’s ag­gres­sive four-year time frame may be a ploy, Lar­son said, to as­sess “what kind of mar­ket might be out there for this”. Van Es­pah­bodi, man­ag­ing part­ner of Star­burst Ac­cel­er­a­tor LLC, a con­sult­ing and ven­ture firm, added that the pub­lic-re­la­tions push be­hind Orion Span may be an ef­fec­tive way to help at­tract fund­ing.

Cheaper ac­cess

Orion Span’s chief ar­chi­tect and op­er­at­ing and chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cers are former Nasa em­ploy­ees. Bunger said the firm’s de­signs would work with most of the current launch con­fig­u­ra­tions, such as Ari­anes­pace, SpaceX and United Launch Al­liance. It could also part­ner with a gov­ern­ment space agency, he said.

Orion Span joins a grow­ing list of en­tre­pre­neur­ial firms that see cheaper ac­cess to space lead­ing to a de­mand for more real es­tate in low Earth or­bit. Bigelow Aerospace LLC de­ployed its 8ft, 3,000lb in­flat­able ac­tiv­ity mod­ule on the ISS in May 2016. In Oc­to­ber, Nasa ex­tended the two-year ser­vice pe­riod for the mod­ule – used for stor­age – to re­main part of the space sta­tion un­til at least 2021.

Ax­iom Space LLC, a Hous­ton-based com­pany also run by Nasa vet­er­ans, said it plans to launch habi­ta­tion mod­ules to com­ple­ment the ISS. Ari­zona-based World View En­ter­prises is de­vel­op­ing a fleet of high-alti­tude plat­forms, called stra­tol­lites, car­ried by bal­loons to the edge of space. The stra­tol­lites are used for com­mu­ni­ca­tions, sur­veil­lance, weather fore­cast­ing, at­mo­spheric re­search, and other ap­pli­ca­tions. Last week, World View said it had raised a to­tal of $48.5 mil­lion.

But the new world of com­mer­cial space­flight has yet to launch a hu­man into space, let alone civil­ians and leave them there for two weeks. Prior to launch, Au­rora Sta­tion trav­ellers would have three months of train­ing, be­gin­ning with on­line cour­ses to un­der­stand “ba­sic space­flight, or­bital me­chan­ics, and pres­surised en­vi­ron­ments in space”. Ho­tel guests will also have re­quired ex­er­cises on space­craft sys­tems and con­tin­gency train­ing at the com­pany’s Hous­ton fa­cil­ity.

No word yet on the mini­bar or turn­down ser­vice.

Hous­ton-based Orion Span’s Au­rora Sta­tion is planned as a 35-by-14-foot mod­ule.

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