Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Why The Aurora One Station ("Space Hotel" ) Is More A Pipedream Than Practical Plan

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Artist's conception of the Aurora Space Station ("Hotel") billed as "the first luxury hotel in space."

I used to think that "Mars One" was the dumbest space concept to ever emerge. For reference, this was the brainchild of commercial space fantasist  and Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp who imagined sending ten billionaires to the Red Planet at a price of $10b each. No thought of the 563 million km, 250-odd day trip exacting a radiation exposure of 0.60- 0.80 Sievert (Sv). This compared to the NASA lifetime limits of 0.6- 1.2 Sv.

NO special training, or at least not too tasking, just enough to teach  the 10 super rich guys how to use the special on board meal packets - so they don't end up eating each other before getting radiation sickness.

Then there was the “Inspiration Mars” nonsense  which would dispatch a couple (husband and wife)  150 million miles and take 501 days overall to do a brief Mars "flyby".   In other words,  enduring 500 -plus days of being cooped up in a large closet-sized space for a reward of only about an hour of actually seeing the Red Planet, and that from a spacecraft a hundred miles up.   This was the vision of  multi-millionaire investment consultant Dennis Tito (The first ever space tourist, i.e. aboard a Russian Soyuz craft). 

Now, we behold the next loopy iteration in the Aurora One Station or "Space Hotel" as it's been called, to be engineered by Houston-based Orion Span. They plan to launch this "modular" station in 2021 and welcome its first guests the following year. (Well, they have to make sure it's orbit worthy first, and doesn't suddenly crash or go into a rapidly decaying orbit.)

The hotel platform will - if all goes right - orbit 200 miles above the Earth and offer its six guests (at $9.5 million per person)  a grand total of "384 sunrises and sunsets" as the craft orbits the planet for 12 days.  Oh yeah, two specially trained crew members will accompany the space tourists, to hopefully bail the modular station out of any difficulties - say a shortage of space rations or a misfiring toilet.

According to Orion Span's founder, Frank Bunger,  a former software engineer, quoted in Bloomberg News:

"We want to get people into space because it's the final frontier for our civilization. We're not selling a 'hey let's go to the beach' equivalent in space. We're selling the experience of being an astronaut. You reckon that there are people who are willing to pay to have that experience."

And the $64 question then becomes: Are these presumed space touristas prepared for space sickness?  Will they take Gravol with them - in liquid mush form?   Are they going to be able to psychologically handle being cooped up with 5 strangers in a 35'  by  14' cabin - about the size of a large living room in a regular home?  We don't know. All we do know is that the likely space tourists are enamored of the idea of being in space and seeing a bunch of sunrises, sunsets.

Then there is the matter of money, funding to support the first Aurora One space hotel expedition.  Given a 12-day sojourn and the need for enough supplies, as well as redundancy built into the craft (for safety) let's be clear that a price of $9.5 million per person will barely pay for the raw materials for module construction.    Based on past space ventures, a decent estimate when all is said and done, is roughly $200 b for the first tourist expedition. 

Furthermore (ibid.) "Orion Span has yet to contact a launch provider, either for its initial flights, i..e. to build the actual station, or for customer flights."    You may be sure that when Orion Span does finally contact a launch provider, that outfit will want a hefty cut for supplying the rockets, etc. 

Indeed, in the words of Phil Larson, who worked with Elon Musk's Space X, quoted in the WSJ piece:

"The startup's aggressive four year time frame may be a ploy to assess what kind of market may be out there for this."

But let's be clear that a ploy isn't a real plan. It is basically a PR gimmick to try to test the waters to find out how much support there is - among launch "providers" especially - to cooperate in such an "entertainment"  venture.   My bet is there aren't very many who will sign on unless Orion Span can show the demand (from very rich millionaires or billionaires)  is there on  continuing basis.   When one thinks about it, as opposed to guzzling PR, it is basically a dumb idea to send 4 wealthy tourists into orbit for 12 days just to take perspective views of sunrises, sunsets. (I suspect any of these wealthy space travelers to be will also check with an actuary as to the odds of surviving such a space junket. It may also get them to rethink their estate plans!)

Van Espahbodi,  managing director of Starburst Accelerator LLC, also referenced in the piece, suggests "the public relations push behind Orion Span may be an effective way to help the company attract funding."

Maybe, and that also will indicate how many launch providers really believe in an inherently dumb idea,  to the point of adequately funding it, providing launch vehicles.

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