"We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel," says Frank Bunger, the founder and CEO of the company. During the recent Space 2.0 Summit event, Bunger revealed his company's plans to launch a hotel into low-Earth orbit by 2021 and start commercial operations in 2022.
Previous orbital tourists have paid anywhere from $20 million to $40 million to visit the International Space Station (ISS) for a few days. In contrast, Bunger claims that the price tag for a 12-day stay aboard Aurora Station will run as low as $9.5 million. (Related: Space fever compromises performance: Zero gravity increases astronauts’ body temperature, taking a toll on mental and physical health.)
"There's been innovation around the architecture to make it more modular and more simple to use and have more automation, so we don't have to have EVAs or spacewalks," he explains in an interview.
In an interview, Bunger explained that his company is building the Aurora Station module in Houston using the experience and expertise of engineers who previously contributed to the design and operation of the ISS. Meanwhile, the operating software is under development in the San Francisco Bay Area.
According to Orion Span spokespersons, Aurora Station is around the size of the pressurized passenger cabin of a big private jet. If you put the luxury space hotel beside the ISS, it is 80 percent shorter and has only 17 percent of the internal pressurized volume of the bigger space station.
Aurora will also occupy a lower orbit. The private space station will be placed at an altitude of 200 miles (320 kilometers), which is 50 miles below the ISS' normal operational altitude.
Like the ISS, Aurora Station will be able to dock with additional modules to increase its internal space and make room for more occupants. Bunger says that Orion Span is working on securing a deal with a launch provider that could boost the company's space station, tourists, and expansion modules into orbit.
"Our long-term vision is to sell actual space in those new modules. We're calling that a space condo. So, either for living or subleasing, that's the future vision here — to create a long-term, sustainable human habitation in LEO," he said.
Interested parties who can afford to part with $80,000 can put down a fully-refundable deposit for a stay at Aurora Station. Paying customers will need to go through three months of streamlined training. The last part of the certification program will take place aboard Aurora Station itself.
Orion Span is not the first company to set its eye on space tourism. The earlier private tours of the ISS were set up by Virginia-based company Space Adventures, which has sent up seven private citizens via Russian-built rockets and spacecraft.
Bunger's start-up also faces fairly stiff competition in the commercial space station business. Competitors include Axiom Space and Bigelow Aerospace, both of which have announced similar plans to run space hotels within a few years. These companies are expecting to find customers among space tourists, national governments, researchers, and private companies.
Other private companies have set their sights lower by going for suborbital space tourism. Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and their rivals have been working on high-altitude launch vehicles that will enter commercial service ahead of Aurora Station and other luxury space hotels.
Head over to SpaceTourism.news for more updates on the future of space tourism.