Moscow - A Russian firm on Wednesday announced an ambitious bid to fill the vacuum in the space tourism market by stationing an orbiting hotel in the cosmos.
The Moscow-based Orbital Technologies has sky-high hopes that its planned Commercial Space Station can serve as a tourism hub for well-heeled travellers and offer overspill accommodation for the International Space Station (ISS) and work space for science projects.
But it's unlikely to come any time soon - the company wants to launch a seven-room station by 2016, but may increase or decrease that capacity based on customer demand.
It also remained unclear whether the state-controlled RKK Energia company, named as the general contractor for the project, would have enough funds and capacities to carry out the plan. Energia builds Soyuz crew capsules and Progress cargo ships which deliver space crew and supplies to the ISS which would also be the only link to space after planned retirement of the US shuttle fleet next year.
Sergey Kostenko, Orbital Tehcnologies' chief executive, told The Associated Press in an interview that the planned station would be "a comfortable hotel in orbit, designed specifically for tourists".
"But it will be more comfortable than the ISS because there won't be any unnecessary scientific equipment," he said.
Comfort and privacy
Until now, space tourists - a handful of megarich CEOs and philanthropists - have had to suffer the indignity of hitching a ride with astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS and float around the space laboratory trying not to break anything.
Now, or at least soon, they will have a place to gawk at the view in private. The design is still being worked out, but some sketches released by Orbital Technologies resemble the ISS.
Orbital Technologies would not disclose the cost of the project.
All the space tourists who have travelled to the ISS were trained in Russia and sent into orbit on Russian Soyuz capsules, although their trips were organised by a Virginia-based company.
Canadian Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, who spent 12 days in space in September 2009, was the last space tourist to travel to the station. Russia halted space tourism this year after the crew size was increased, using the seats in Soyuz that would have been sold to paying travellers.
Food at the new station will be suited for individual preferences, Kostenko said, and the organisers are thinking of employing celebrity chefs to cook the food before it is packaged and sent into space.