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Aurora Station
An artist’s conception shows Orion Span’s Aurora Station. (Orion Span Illustration)

A startup called Orion Span says it’s planning to open a luxury hotel in orbit in 2022, but a lot of the details have yet to be filled in.

The plan to launch the module into space, and take reservations from customers for multimillion-dollar trips, was announced today at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, Calif.

Orion Span says its hotel habitat, dubbed Aurora Station, will be about the size of a large private jet’s cabin, with 5,650 cubic feet of pressurized space. It’ll accommodate up to six residents at a time, including two professional crew members.

The flight plan calls for the module to be launched into a 200-mile-high orbit in late 2021, and host its first guests in 2022.

Guests would go through three months of pre-flight training, including an online certification program and in-person training at a facility in Houston. They’d then be launched to Aurora Station to spend 12 days in space.

Price tag for the package: $9.5 million. Refundable deposits of $80,000 are already being accepted through an escrow company.

To put those figures in perspective, space passengers have paid as much as $35 million to take a weeklong trip to the International Space Station on a Russian spacecraft, after spending six months in training. The last such passenger flew in 2009. Since then, NASA has paid more than twice as much for Russian rides to orbit.

Aurora Station interior
A cutaway diagram shows the interior of Aurora Station. The module would measure 43.5 feet long and 14.1 feet in diameter. (Orion Span Illustration)

The open questions surrounding Orion Span have to do with funding and logistics.

Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger told GeekWire that the venture is currently self-funded, with added support from two angel investors whom he declined to name. An investment round is planned in the next two or three months, he said.

Bunger said the space module for Aurora Station would be assembled in-house in Houston, starting in early to mid-2019, with some components provided by outside suppliers. Software development is being done in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Orion Span hasn’t yet sealed any deals with partners to send Aurora Station into orbit, or to transport passengers and cargo to and from the station, Bunger said. (For what it’s worth, one of the vehicles shown docked to the station in an artist’s conception looks a lot like a Boeing Starliner.)

Bunger acknowledged that it’ll take a lot of work to develop, test and launch hardware in time to open the space hotel in 2022. “The main point is that there are ways to make it move faster,” he said.

Prior to founding Orion Span, Bunger worked at a variety of software and IT companies, most recently as vice president for a computer security company called UpGuard. Orion Span’s other executives have had experience in spacecraft design and development.

In a news release, Bunger said he and his team “developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space … bringing travelers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before, while still providing an unforgettable experience.”

“Our goal is to make space accessible to all, by continuing to drive greater value at lower cost,” Bunger said.

Bunger said Orion Span would offer full charters to space agencies looking for a low-cost route to human spaceflight, and could support zero-gravity research or in-space manufacturing.

“Our architecture is such that we can easily add capacity, enabling us to grow with market demand like a city growing skyward on Earth,” he said. “We will later sell dedicated modules as the world’s first condominiums in space. Future Aurora owners can live in, visit, or sublease their space condo.”

Several other ventures have taken more concrete steps along the way to commercial space habitats. Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, for example, has two uncrewed standalone habitats in orbit as well as an expandable module that’s attached to the International Space Station.

NASA, meanwhile, is pursuing partnerships with six commercial teams to develop deep-space habitats that could conceivably be used in low Earth orbit as well.

Yet another venture, Axiom Space, has raised millions of dollars to build modules that could be connected to the space station and then unhooked to operate independently when the space station is retired.

Interest in such ventures has been stoked by the Trump administration’s initiative to commercialize space operations in low Earth orbit by the mid-2020s.

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