The Russian space agency Roscosmos is floating the idea of building a “luxury” hotel module for the International Space Station, one, that as Jason Torchinsky at Jalopnik reports, could accommodate paid travelers for two weeks during a $40 million vacay to orbit.
The term “luxury,” of course, is only in relation to current conditions on the ISS. The new module would give paying passengers private cabins that include larger-than-normal windows, bathrooms, personal exercise equipment and WiFi. Visitors would even have the opportunity to take a Cosmonaut-accompanied space walk.
Anatoly Zak at Popular Mechanics got an exclusive look at the specs for the proposed 20-ton module. Inside it would have four private rooms, two private “hygiene and medical stations” and a 16-inch window in a “lounge” area.
Zak reports that the module is similar to the Science and Power Module, called NEM-1, which Russian firm RKK Energia is currently building for the ISS and which is in the works for 2021. The hotel would be called NEM-2 and has an estimated price tag ranging from $279 million to #446 million. The company is looking to secure at least 12 travelers who will commit to a $4 million down payment on the $40 million trip in order to begin construction.
Since Russia flies four missions to the station each year in their three-person Soyuz craft, they could theoretically shuttle six space tourists to the ISS each year. If all goes according to plan, the construction of the capsule would be paid for in seven years.
There is some precedent for selling time on the ISS. Torchinsky reports that Russia began the whole space tourism industry in 2001 when it shuttled American businessman Dennis Tito to the ISS. After that, Russia flew six more tourists to the space station. But after the retirement of the American space shuttle fleet, those extra spots in the Soyuz were the only way astronauts and space professionals of other nations could reach the ISS, and tourism was suspended. Russia is anticipating that the United States will soon be able to deliver astronauts to the ISS on its own using the private SpaceX Dragon capsule, which could be operational as early as next year. When that happens, the Soyuz will have many potentially revenue-producing seats open.
Of course there are reasons to doubt that Russia can get its hotel module ready before the ISS’s retirement, which is currently scheduled for 2028. Despite taking on a huge commitment to build and deliver many sections of the space station over the past two decades, Russia has fallen woefully behind because of financial and technical difficulties. And this isn’t the first time Russian companies have promised to build a space hotel. In 2011, Orbital Technologies reported it would have a seven-room luxury space lodge in place by 2016, promising bargain-priced $1 million, one-week trips that would include sightseeing trips to orbit the moon. That project has yet to materialize.
But whether or not Russia gets any sort of hotel operational, Anthony Cuthbertson at Newsweek reports we are at the beginning of a new space race, one to get paying customers into orbit, or at least close to it. Earlier this year, Blue Origin, the space program funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, revealed plans for a capsule that would take passengers 62 miles up, with the hopes of having it operational in 2020. Two other companies, Virgin Galactic and Kosmokurs, a Russian firm backed by Roscosmos, also say they are on the brink of taking passengers to the edge of space.