45 unreal photos and renderings show how companies are building a space glamping industry for the superrich
Joey Hadden,Dave MosherOct 17, 2019, 01:27 IST
It's hard to impress Instagram followers. They seem to have seen it all, including every inch of the planet's surface - every mountain's summit, every crystal clear hot spring, every picture-perfect person posing from every perspective.
This is a hotel room. It may not look like much, but it costs more than any hotel you've ever stayed in. That's because you can look down at Earth while watching Netflix and scrolling through social media. Though this isn't yet real, the deep pockets of the superrich are inspiring plans like these.
SpaceX is another driving force. The company is storming the launch industry with reusable rockets, which make space travel more affordable. As a result, startups are now popping up with renderings of their own plans for space tourism, which now seems poised for a boom.
But space tourism isn’t the end goal for SpaceX, which tech mogul Elon Musk founded in 2002. Musk is obsessed with building cities on Mars and populating the planet with millions of people in cities complete with bars and pizza joints.
Musk is concerned about civilization as we know it today ending due to severe calamities, ranging from asteroid strikes to nuclear war or profound climate disruption. So he wants to start building colonies on other planets.
To get us there, SpaceX is trying to dramatically lower the cost of access to space. To that end, SpaceX successfully launched and landed a Falcon 9 booster — the largest and most expensive part of a rocket — for the first time in December 2015.
The rockets' boosters can land themselves back on Earth and be reused. This saves millions of dollars per launch.
This trick has made it possible to send more into space for less money — be it cargo, astronauts, or private astronauts (also called space tourists or, per NASA, "spaceflight participants").
Basically, it's making space travel more affordable, though as of yet still only for the superrich: One seat may still cost tens of millions of dollars, according to a recent NASA presentation.
After SpaceX's first successful rocket landing, Musk called for the inevitable — a new space race. He got his wish, as other companies are now working toward their own reusable rockets.
Of all the other private space companies attempting to claim their spot in the race, Blue Origin — founded by Jeff Bezos in 1999 — is viewed as SpaceX’s most significant competitor.
Bezos, who is considered the richest person in the world, says he liquidates about $1 billion a year to fund his private spaceflight operation. Blue Origin's ultimate goal is different from SpaceX's; Bezos wants to colonize space itself rather than planets, like Mars.
Bezos plans for these floating colonies to have ideal, Hawaii-like weather all the time. This means no natural disasters and no bad weather days.
That's a (very) long way off, though. For now, Blue Origin is working toward commercializing space with its own reusable rocket system.
Called New Glenn, it's scheduled to debut in 2020.
As currently envisioned, New Glenn rocket would be larger than SpaceX's Falcon 9 and be reusable at least 24 times before it'd have to be retired.
Bezos is confident about this because Blue Origin has mostly perfected a smaller reusable launch system called New Shepard. The company plans to fly its first paying passengers in a capsule on top of the rocket in 2020.
Blue Origin's space tours on New Shepard can't reach orbit around Earth, and they'd last only about 11 minutes. But each flight would take patrons more than 60 miles above the planet's surface and fly past the unofficial boundary of space in a capsule.
The capsule would detach from the rocket near the highest point of the trip, giving patrons about four minutes to experience weightlessness.
They'd be able to unbuckle their seat belts and float around the cabin during this time. Outside of the capsule's windows, they'd see the deep blackness of space and the curvature of Earth.
But they'd soon have to buckle up in the capsule as the vessel starts falling back to the ground. Parachutes would eventually deploy and retro rockets would fire for a relatively cushy landing.
Business Insider previously estimated that each ticket to ride New Shepard may cost more than $200,000.
Despite SpaceX's ultimate goal of populating Mars, the company is also invested in space tourism. Its trips will be more expensive and last longer than Blue Origin’s, though ...
… and that’s because SpaceX's flight is about more than the journey — it’s about the destination, too.
The company has developed a Crew Dragon capsule for NASA astronauts, but it will have plenty of room for private customers.
Those trips will likely start with weeks- or months-long flights to the International Space Station, a football-field-size laboratory in space. Russia has permitted private astronauts to stay in its modules for many years, but NASA just opened up its own to commercial interests.
But SpaceX is developing a fully reusable rocket system called Starship to get you to space. It may be 100 to 1,000 times less expensive to operate and could also dramatically shorten long-distance travel.
If realized as Musk has envisioned it, Starship would briefly enter space during a long-distance flight — say from New York to Tokyo — and make what's normally a day of travel less than an hour.
Virgin Galactic, another private space company, is also working towards taking tourists into space. And it, too, also wants to shorten point-to-point travel like SpaceX but with a small winged craft called SpaceShipTwo.
The ship starts out attached between two airplanes, drops off after reaching a high altitude, rockets toward space, and then glides back to a landing on a runway. In total each flight may last a couple of hours.
But only 4-5 minutes of that time will be spent floating in space. The rest of the time will just be spent getting up to cruising altitude. So essentially, it's a similar experience to what Blue Origin offers; it just takes longer.
Regardless, people seem to be on board with the idea. According to Business Insider, Virgin Galactic has already sold at least 700 tickets for future flights priced around $250,000 each.
Though a pilot died in 2014 during a SpaceShipTwo flight test, the company says it has resolved the issue that led to the accident. Company founder Richard Branson also said that he would ride in one of the first flights, in part to show that it's safe.
But one of the most jaw-dropping space tourism flights yet planned will SpaceX's flight around the moon in 2023.
This flight would use the same Starship rocket system it plans to use for long-distance flights. But the trip will take about a week in total to skim past the moon, reach its farthest point, get pulled back to Earth, and land.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought the tickets for this voyage — all of them. Maezawa, who's famous as an art collector, is hand-picking artists as crew members (and an astronaut or two) to make the trip and inspire out-of-this-world creation of new art.
He’s calling the project #dearmoon, and he hasn’t made any final decisions yet, but he said they will come from different artistic disciplines and media.
While these are the plans for space tourism in the near future, private space companies are also already working on renderings that future technology could allow for, like Axiom's plans for space hotel rooms that look like this ...
... or SpaceX's plans for live in-flight entertainment, like this.
Reminiscent of "2001: A Space Odyssey," The Gateway Foundation hopes to create the Von Braun Station and have it finished by 2025.
Supposedly, this will include the world's first space hotel, and it's supposed to be luxurious and complete with gravity.
The hotel portion of the station would (in theory) hold 100 guests per week with amenities like restaurants, movie screenings, low-gravity basketball, trampolining, and rock-climbing facilities.
Still, even luggage design companies hope to join the modern space race. Horizn Studios wants to make this suitcase specifically for space travel. It'd be lighter and more flexible than any other suitcase.
It's concept even has a smart screen for sharing experiences.
But like most visions of space travel, much of these ideas are just that: ideas ...
And even if they weren't, many of us will not be able to afford them ...
... So for now, savor your selfies from airplane windows. That may be the closest to space nearly all of us will ever get.