The first ‘space hotel’ plans to open in 2027
Vacation conjures us thoughts of pristine beaches, glittering ski slopes, outstretched highways, and theme parks. It doesn’t immediately conjure up images of cosmic trips on colossal rotating wheels or vistas defined by the long arc of Earth’s surface — but it may soon.
Six decades in, the Space Age is rapidly progressing into its commercial phase, allowing an increasing number of private people to purchase passage beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Recently, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have paid to cross or arrive at the Kármán line, which separates our atmosphere from outer space. On April 8, SpaceX launched the Ax-1 Mission, bringing three rich businessmen and their astronaut escort to the International Space Station on Friday for more than a week’s stay, as NASA joins Russia in hosting guests at the world’s most expensive tourist destination.
Orbital Assembly Corporation (AOC), a Sacramento start-up, has revealed plans to establish a space hotel by 2027 to accommodate such a trip. Voyager Station, the first of its type, is planned to be a luxury resort for 280 guests and 112 staff members, equipped with a restaurant, a bar, a performance hall, a gym, and even a cinema.
If this sounds ridiculous, Tim Alatorre, OAC’s vice president and the hotel’s architect, understands. But, he insists, it won’t be long until such discussion becomes mainstream. “I think it’s going to be a normal thing, where your mom went to space, your dad went to space,” he says. “Being an astronaut is not going to be a novel thing anymore, because everyone has done it.”
But for the time being, it is clearly novel, the stuff of humankind’s oldest dreams. According to Alatorre, the concept of traveling to space has fascinated our ancestors for hundreds of years. Indeed, the basic structure of Voyager is based on a century of speculation about how to occupy the final frontier.
The rotating wheel concept, developed in the early 1900s as a means of creating artificial gravity, was popularized in the 1950s by German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (Voyager was originally named in his honor). Visitors will be able to move around normally, thanks to the centrifugal force it generates. Alternatively, as stated on the OAC website, “We provide gravity.”
At first, its gravity will be similar to that of the Moon, which is roughly one-sixth of the Earth. That equates to around a revolution and a half each minute. According to Alatorre, they intend to spin it up to Mars level (a third of Earth’s gravity) and finally recreate our own planet’s weightiness. However, because there has been little research on how humans adapt to artificial gravity, scientists want to better understand their guests’ physiology before increasing the g-force.
Besides, the lunar environment is undoubtedly part of the appeal for many. People with disabilities will have fewer physical obstacles, while the able-bodied will discover that they are capable of extraordinary athletic feats. Maybe we’ll even see a reprise of Michael Jordan’s 1996 Space Jam role? ( Not that the guy needs any help defying gravity.) At least, Alatorre expects “a lot of really good YouTube videos.”
Guests will arrive at a central, zero-gravity docking center after blasting off from Earth. Elevator shafts will transport people from there to a series of “habitation modules” set around the circle of the circular station. Only near the wheel’s edge will centrifugal force be powerful enough to keep guests and their surroundings firmly grounded.
They’ll find all of the aforementioned amenities of this resort in the sky while wandering the 24 modules, which total 125,000 square feet. They’ll lift heavy weights and practice slam dunks, listen to live music, and eat typical astro-fare like tang and freeze-dried ice cream alongside world cuisines. Then there’s the view, of course.
Every earthbound resort touts the beauty of its environs, but Voyager’s will be truly unparalleled. As tourists mill about the station’s sparse, modern design, they are frequently seen staring out the windows. Each scene is a variant on the same bizarre theme: a fraction of the Earth’s massive frame, blue, green, and white, curving against the darkness of an intergalactic nothingness.
The price of being an astronaut
On its website, the company encourages potential customers to “be one of the first humans to vacation on a luxurious space station.” Make history by being one of the first humans to buy real estate in orbit.” As if it were promoting any old property in Aspen or Palm Beach, the site advertises short- and long-term leases for “luxury villas, commercial, retail and industrial space” — pun perhaps intended. They’re already in negotiations with booking agents, Alatorre says.
Who are these potential customers? After all, the going charge for an out-of-this-world excursion is still excessive. For example, Oliver Daemen spent $28 million for a ticket in orbit next to Bezos, which is historically cheap. In the SpaceX Ax-1 mission, three rich businessmen paid $55 million apiece for the rocket ride and accommodations, all meals included. For the time being, such travel is reserved for the super-rich. For the time being, such travel is reserved for the super-rich.
But, Alatorre says, “We want to make this an easy choice. If you want to go to Paris for a week or you want to go to space for a week, we want it to be a question of preference, not of money.” Though he wouldn’t discuss prices in detail, he says the goal is for a stay on Voyager to rival a cruise ticket.
Relatively speaking, he says, “the resort is cheap, it’s the flight that’s expensive.” And, when more efficient launching methods are developed, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster, the cost of every pound launched into orbit will fall. Transportation will no longer be “mass-constrained,” as the industry term has it. Alatorre even suggests that the hotel could be substantially more accessible within a decade.
Reality or not
If a project of this magnitude appears to be ambitious, it is. SpaceX, which has no ties to AOC, gave the firm a shoutout on Instagram in March, ending on an ambiguous note. “Maybe @spacex can offer a two way ticket by the time it’s finished?” the post reads, referencing Voyager. “We are curious to see if this plan will become a reality or not.”
Alatorre acknowledges that partners and investors are understandably cautious. On the other hand, all indications point to a rapid expansion of space commerce. OAC is no longer the only participant in the game; as the 23-year-old International Space Station (ISS) — the most likely tourism site currently in orbit — nears the end of its life, several companies hope to fill its absence with their own ventures.
Axiom already has a contract with NASA to attach a “destination module” to the International Space Station, which will eventually be coupled with additional modules to form an independent commercial station. Sierra Space and Blue Origin, the aerospace arm of the Bezos empire, announced plans for Orbital Reef, a mixed-use station set to launch by the end of the decade. Voyager, on the other hand, is the only one marketed solely as a tourist attraction.
Above all, Alatorre says he is confident in the space hotel’s theoretical and mechanical soundness. OAC has finished architectural work on the “Gravity Ring,” a scale model of the wheel, as well as “Pioneer stations” with only a few habitation modules. These prototypes — the latter scheduled for habitability by 2025 — will allow the company to test its technologies before the final assembly of Voyager.
“We are committed to this, and we’ve invested our lives and our fortunes into making this a reality,” Alatorre says. “There’s nothing technologically standing in our way. It’s just a question of time and money, and we can overcome those.”