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Will a space hotel actually be open for business in 2027?

Will a space hotel actually be open for business in 2027?
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One of the most spectacular sequences in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" depicts a space shuttle carrying Heywood Floyd to a space station in the shape of a wheel, spinning to create artificial gravity. The space station in question is run by Hilton, a major hotel chain. The space shuttle, by the way, was run by Pan Am, which was once a major airline.

Fast forward 53 years later, a company called Orbital Assembly proposes building a space hotel by 2027. According to the plan, a wheeled structure would have accommodations for up to 280 guests, with a gourmet restaurant, entertainment center and a gym included. The first space hotel would be dubbed Voyager Station.

Space tourists have been paying a lot of money for stays on the International Space Station (ISS), courtesy of the Russians, since the beginning of the current century. Now that the SpaceX Crew Dragon is operational. Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskSpaceX prototype rocket lands successfully following failed tests The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Judge orders Tesla to turn over documents on Musk compensation plan MORE’s space launch company has expanded into taking people into low Earth orbit for fun, profit and, in one instance, a good cause.

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Proposals for space hotels, or at least private space stations that can be used as such, have been around for a number of years.

Bigelow Aerospace, run by Los Vegas Hotel tycoon and UFO enthusiast Robert Bigelow, once showed some promise. Bigelow proposed large space stations built around inflatable modules, ironically licensed from NASA technology. One Bigelow module is currently attached to the ISS and is used as a storage compartment. Unfortunately, partly because of the pandemic, Bigelow laid off its entire workforce about a year ago. Bigelow has promised to rehire its laid-off workers once “conditions improve.”

Axiom Space of Houston recently raised $130 million in investment funding. The company intends to attach modules to the ISS and, eventually, build its own stand-alone facility. Axiom has also started a space tourism business, flying paying customers to the ISS on board SpaceX Crew Dragons. The company estimates that its space station will cost $3 billion to deploy, with funding coming from ongoing operations. The Axiom space station will host government and private customers who want to perform experiments and conduct Earth observation operations in real time. It would be less of a space hotel than a private version of the ISS.

The Orbital Assembly Voyager Station is unique in that its primary customer base seems to be the wealthy and adventurous in search of the ultimate experience, rather than researchers. Can the company pull it off, especially during the time frame proposed?

An article on the project in New Atlas suggests that the Voyager Station will cost “tens of billions of dollars” to construct. The operating costs are unknown at this time, but the station will apparently have a staff of about a 100 as well as the occasional entertainer to perform for the guests. The cost of a three-and-a-half-day stay at Voyager Station will be $5 million.

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The six-year schedule for building a space hotel of the type and scale of Voyager Station is ambitious. The company intends to deploy a small-scale, prototype 40 meters in diameter to prove its “semiautomatic” robotic construction technology. That having been accomplished, the company will construct the full-scale model.

Still, Orbital Assembly must raise the immense amount of money needed to build the Voyager Station space hotel, overcome the myriad technological problems of executing such a project, and then run it at a profit. If the company can do all of those things, it will have turned what was once science fiction into reality.

Can Orbital Assembly do what it proposes to do? A New York Post story is pretty sure it can. However, Eric Berger of Ars Technica is equally sure that it cannot.

The chance that Orbital Assembly can deploy a wheeled space station by 2027 or by any date is somewhere between slim and none.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times and the Washington Post, among other venues.