Out of financial necessity, Russia was one of the innovators when it came to the burgeoning field of space tourism, with American businessman and former JPL scientist Dennis Tito becoming the first space tourist in mid-2001 when he spent nearly eight days in orbit on the Russian Soyuz TM-32, the International Space Station (ISS), and Soyuz TM-31. Following Russia’s halting of orbital space tourism earlier this year due to an increase in the ISS crew size, private Russian company, Orbital Technologies, has now announced plans to build, launch and operate what could be the world’s first commercial space station (CSS). It envisions the station will be used by professional crews and corporate researchers to conduct scientific experiments, as well as private citizens looking for an out of this world holiday destination.
To be built by Russian spacecraft manufacturer RSC Energia, the CSS would be man-tended, with a crew capability of up to seven people, with the capability to expand the crew size over time. It would be serviced by the Russian Soyez and Progress spacecraft, as well as other human and cargo spacecraft that are expected to be in operation in the next decade. Orbital Technologies says such adaptability will be possible through the station’s unified docking system that will be compatible with any commercial crew and cargo capability developed in the U.S., Europe and China.
The CSS will be placed within 100 km (62 miles) of the ISS in order to minimize the energy required to transfer crew and cargo between the two stations and maximize the opportunities for commerce and cooperation. Its proximity will also allow the CSS to serve as an emergency refuge for the ISS crew if necessary.
"There is a possibility for the ISS crew to leave their station for several days. For example, if a required maintenance procedure or a real emergency were to occur, without the return of the ISS crew to Earth, habitants could use the CSS as a safe haven,” said Alexey Krasnov, Head of Manned Spaceflight Department, Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation.
The first module of the CSS will measure just 20 cubic meters (706 cubic feet) and will comprise four cabins. Despite the tight fit, the planned module will offer more comforts than the ISS and will feature large portholes providing a view of Earth that would be hard to beat.
Aside from being aimed at well-to-do individuals and people working for private companies wanting to conduct research in space, the CSS is also designed to serve as a staging outpost for human space flight missions beyond low earth orbit.
Orbital Technologies isn’t the first company to announce plans for a commercial space station designed to serve as a hotel. In 2007, Galactic Suite Design announced its plans to develop an “orbital hotel chain” starting with a luxury space resort that was due for completion in 2012. Although the company has already taken bookings, no hardware has yet been built or tested and critics have voiced skepticism about the veracity of the project.
Although the CSS is still at the design and development stage, Orbital Technologies has already signed cooperation agreements with RSC Energia and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) for the project. It also claims that funding for the development and deployment of the CSS is already in place and is therefore proceding “on an expeditious schedule for the initiation of station operations” and plans to launch the first module of the CSS in 2015-2016. It hasn’t announced any potential pricing but if you’re interested in booking a room you might want to start saving those millions now.