SPACE tourists set to holiday aboard the International Space Station will enjoy padded pods and panoramic views of Earth.
Nasa has chosen the start-up that will build the first “private habitat” module for the ISS – revealing concept images and videos of the sci-fi residence.
Last year, Nasa revealed plans to allow tourists to visit the ISS from 2020 onwards.
Until now, the floating space lab had only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.
Under the new rules, companies can now take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.
And Nasa has commissioned Houston-based start-up Axiom Space to build the first habitat module for commercial space tourists.
Axiom’s space habitat will be capable of housing eight crew members, each with their own “nest-like cabin”.
The living module also promises super-fast communications back to home and “extraordinary, unobstructed views of Earth”.
That comes courtesy of what Axiom claims will be the largest window observatory ever constructed for space.
“Axiom’s work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit,” said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine.
“We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration.
“It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil.”
Axiom hired legendary French designer Philippe Starck to map out the crew accommodations.
But the module will also contain manufacturing facilities, a pressurised research lab, and a crew-capable airlock.
What is the ISS?
Here’s what you need to know about the International Space Station…
- The International Space Station, often abbreviated to ISS, is a large space craft that orbits Earth and houses astronauts who go up there to complete scientific missions
- Many countries worked together to build it and they work together to use it
- It is made up of many pieces, which astronauts had to send up individually on rockets and put together from 1998 to 2000
- Ever since the year 2000, people have lived on the ISS
- Nasa uses the station to learn about living and working in space
- It is approximately 250 miles above Earth and orbits around the planet just like a satellite
- Living inside the ISS is said to be like living inside a big house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, lots of science labs and a big bay window for viewing Earth
Initially, the module will simply dock on to the ISS – almost like a conservatory on your home.
However, Axiom hopes that when the ISS is decommissioned, its module will float freely through space – still capable of housing astronauts.
“The privately-owned platform that builds on the legacy and foundation of continuous human presence in Low Earth Orbit established by the ISS,” said Axiom Space.
“The first elements of Axiom will attach to the forward node of the ISS, providing modern accommodations for more astronauts, a first-of-its-kind immersive view of our beautiful Earth, and additional research and manufacturing volume.
“When ISS is retired, Axiom Station will complete construction and detach to operate into the future as a free-flying complex for living and working in space – marking humankind’s next stage of LEO settlement.”
Private visitors were banned from the space station – which has cost US taxpayers £785million since it was launched in the 1990s – but Nasa needs cash to help fund its dream of putting a man and woman on the Moon by 2024.
Transport will be provided by both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, who are currently developing capsules that can carry humans to the ISS.
It’s expected that a trip will likely cost around $50million (£39million) per astronaut, according to early estimates – but could easily rise well above that figure.
The spaceflight to the ISS will account for a large chunk of the cost. But chief financial officer Jeff DeWit joked: “It won’t come with any Hilton or Marriott points.”
Nasa typically pays around $75million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the ISS, and even paid $82million per seat in 2015.
However, Nasa says seats aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and/or Boeing CST-100 capsules will cost roughly $58million per seat.
It’s these capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts up to the ISS – but the cost continues to rise after the journey.
Keeping astronauts on board the ISS is a pricey business.
For instance, the regenerative life support and toilet costs $11,250 (£8,800) per astronaut each day.
And general supplies – like food and air – cost $22,500 (£17,500) per astronaut each day.
Nasa will get around $35,000 (£27,000) per night that a private astronaut spends on board the ISS.
A large bank balance won’t be enough either: you’ll have to pass Nasa’s rigorous health checks and training procedures.
“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” Nasa explained.
“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”
Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.
Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.
And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organise trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55million (£43.2million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.
Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa’s head of human exploration, told a news conference: “We have no idea what kinds of creativity and literally out-of-the-world ideas can come from private industry.”
But super-rich tourists and filmmakers are also being invited to make use of the experience.
And in a message recorded on the ISS, astronaut Christina Koch said it would make space “more accessible to all Americans”.
Jeff Manbar, the CEO of ISS logistics company Nanoracks, said: “It’s a very important step forward. This is the beginning of a new chapter.”
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