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Holiday in space

Someday soon you might be able to board a rocket and get a room with a view – of the whole planet – from a hotel in space

Tired of your ordinary earthly vacations? Someday soon you might be able to board a rocket and get a room with a view – of the whole planet – from a hotel in space.

At least, that is the sales pitch of several companies racing to become the first to host guests in orbit on purpose-built space stations.

“It sounds kind of crazy to us today because it is not a reality yet,” said founder of US aerospace firm Orion Span, Frank Bunger. “But that’s the nature of these things, it sounds crazy until it is normal.”

US multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the world’s first paying space tourist in 2001, travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for a reported $20 million. A few others have followed.

Since then, companies like Boeing, SpaceX and Blue Origin have been working on ways to bring the stars into reach for more people – opening up a new business frontier for would-be space hoteliers.

US space agency NASA announced in June that it plans to allow two private citizens a year to stay at the ISS at a cost of about $35,000 per night for up to a month. The first mission could be as early

as 2020.

But the growing movement has raised questions about the adequacy of current space laws, which mainly deal with exploration and keeping space free of weapons, not hotels and holidaymakers.

“It is difficult now to want to do things in space and get a clear answer from (space law),” said space law adviser at the Secure World Foundation, Christopher Johnson.

“For something as advanced

as hotels in space there is no

clear guidance.”

Orbital holiday: Orion Span plans to host the first guests on its Aurora Station – a capsule-shaped spacecraft roughly the size of a private jet – by 2024, said Bunger. Accompanied by a crew member, up to five travellers at a time would fly up to the station for a 12-day stay costing at least $9.5 million per head. In orbit, guests would take part in scientific experiments, enjoy some 16 sunrises and sunsets a day and play table tennis in zero gravity. Around 30 people have already put down a $80,000 deposit.

Californian company the Gateway Foundation is hoping to build a massive space station able to sleep more than 400 people – including tourists, researchers, doctors

and housekeepers.

Solar-powered and shaped like a wheel, the station would spin around its core to create artificial gravity on its perimeter, equal to about one-sixth of that on earth. The group aims to complete the station, named after Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi rocket scientist who later worked on the US Apollo programme, by 2028. In recent years, several companies – including Spain’s Galactic Suite and Russia’s Orbital Technologies – have failed to live up to their pledges to host guests on orbiting hotels by now.

Legal hurdles: The law is another hurdle for space hotels to lift off. The rush of speculation in space has revealed gaps in international laws and treaties governing its use and sparked calls for greater oversight.

Life far from earth is mainly regulated by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans countries from claiming space and celestial bodies for themselves but allows for their use for peaceful purposes – opening the door to business exploitation.

But firms would need authorisation from a state, normally the one where they are incorporated, to launch a hotel in space, said space law professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Tanja Masson-Zwaan. Authorising governments would also have to continuously supervise each space station’s activities, she said.

And all states involved in the creation and launch of a space station are liable in perpetuity for any

damage the station might cause – if it were to crash into a satellite,

for example.

That responsibility could make governments wary of supporting such ventures in the first place, said Masson-Zwaan.

Because the station will have some thrust capability to help it stay in orbit, it falls under a 40-year-old US set of rules on defence goods conceived mainly to prevent sensitive arms technology being sold to countries deemed to be a risk. Those rules have requirements on transparency and disclosure that have more to do with ballistic missiles than space holidays.

(HT Media)

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