When you take a trip somewhere, lodging in a comfortable hotel is vital to the excursion. Well, for space travellers, a hotel room with a Solar System facing view might soon be a reality.
The International Space Station (ISS) is the symbolic “rest stop” for every undertaken space mission. Astronauts and scientists use the internationally run base to conduct research, plan excursions and observe our planet. But it seems now that the ISS has some competition as the sole staying “inn” for interstellar explorers. A full-fledged private research station cum space hotel, AxStation, is right on the horizon.
The Friendly Neighbourhood ISS
The ISS is a remarkable example of global cooperation on projects that, quite literally, have the earth’s larger good at stake in their conception. The space station keeps a watchful eye for us out there in space, finding new data about our planet and the cosmos. But like most things we know, all good things must come to an end. The ISS is no exception, and our humble orbital monument is getting old.
The International Space Station is 22 years old and has been in operation for 20 years. Over the last two decades, 234 astronauts and seven space tourists (yes, tourists) from 19 countries have visited the base. Over 100 countries have conducted research projects there. In case you’re still curious about the space tourists, it might not be in our wheelhouse, as each trip cost somewhere between $20 million and $25 million.
Now comes the sad part. The ISS costs $3 billion every year to operate/maintain, and NASA is in charge of all the projects. Despite the high running costs, NASA estimates that the ISS has only around ten years left to live, citing airlock failures and breaking down of essential commodities like toilets. There is a chance that the ten years might extend to 2032, but a replacement for the ISS is needed nevertheless.
AxStation – the First Space Hotel
Surprisingly enough, the ISS is still incomplete. It is expected to receive five more modules, including two power modules in the coming years.
Enters Axiom Space, a space-tech startup based in Texas, USA. The company is NASA’s neighbour and was founded by former ISS manager Michael Suffredini. The startup is four years old and plans to build the first-ever commercial space station.
Each module, dubbed as AxStation, will eventually launch as a part of the ISS rather than a full-scale station. The company plans on launching a crew module as their first project to attach to the ISS. A lab and a panoramic observatory will soon follow the crew module.
Uniqueness of AxStation
What’s so unique about the AxStation then, if it’s just a module like NASA’s? Based on the ISS’s estimated life, the moment it goes defunct, AxStation modules will detach themselves from the ISS and form their own free-flying station. This will, in turn, create the base for future AxStation modules, and the space station will continue growing in this order.
Now for the juicy bit, Axiom Space is also working on creating specialised modules that can function as hotel rooms on the space station. The strategy for Axiom seems to be in full flow, too. NASA gave the firm the go-ahead last year to mount one of the crew modules to an International Space Station docking port, together with a contract of about $140 million to make it possible.
Imminent Commercialisation of Space
The modules will allow space enthusiasts with deep pockets to get a taste of staying in zero gravity and spending some time in space. The 408km high hotel will cost patrons at least $55 million per person, and apparently, Tom Cruise is one of the first high-profile explorers to get in line. If that wasn’t star-studded enough, NASA and SpaceX have also joined hands with Axiom Space. The deal has been valued to be around $140 million and will allow Axiom to attach their modules to the ISS.
This business venture aims to serve all parties involved. With NASA spending billions of dollars maintaining the ISS, Axiom will be able to take over the operations, leaving NASA free to focus their funds elsewhere, such as the satellite network overhaul project. This will also allow other space-based startups, such as SpaceX, to privatise the aerospace industry further, creating new business opportunities.
The rapid commercialisation also signifies the start of space “territories” wherein we may expect companies, agencies and others to start acquiring zones or areas in near-Earth orbit to establish their ventures. How beneficial or hazardous this may turn out remains to be seen.
Would you take a tour on the AxStation? Or are you more of the “journey over destination” kinda person? If so, Saturn might be more your fancy!