If you read that headline and got a sense of whatever deja vu is in Russian, don’t worry: they’ve been talking about this for years. I suppose the Russians may finally launch an orbital ‘hotel’ soon, but to be honest, I’m pretty skeptical of most Russian ISS segment plans, which were once quite elaborate, but seem to never quite happen, year after year. Still, this plan offers a chance to actually make some money, so maybe it’ll actually happen.
Keep in mind, the Russian segment of the ISS was supposed to include all the elements shown in red on this diagram:
Of those components, most have never managed to materialize. Aside from the original two Russian-built modules, Zarya (owned by the U.S.) and Zvezda, all that has gone up are three small docking and/or stowage modules (also used for some research), but nothing like the large solar arrays, laboratory or research modules that were planned.
To their credit, the Russians never really give up, though, and there’s a new planned module in the works, the Science and Power Module, known by the acronym NEM.
The NEM would include solar arrays and a decent-sized pressurized module, which would provide equipment racks and crew quarters. The module is notable in that it’s the first Russian space station module to not use the venerable TKS-derived module designs that have been in near-constant use since the Soviet Salyut stations from the 1970s.
Tentatively, the NEM-1 module is scheduled to launch in 2021, delayed due to funding issues. These same funding issues threatened the ability to build a second planned NEM module, but now that module may be saved, if it becomes a space hotel for very rich people.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has come up with a plan to fund the completion of NEM-2 and its launch by selling $4 million up-front reservations for at least 12 passengers. The full cost of an eventual trip to the ISS would be about $40 million for a two-week stay aboard the module.
The module is expected to be a step up from the usual ISS accommodations, with a private cabin with big windows, private bathroom and hygiene facilities, WiFi and exercise equipment available.
Once NASA gets the Orion flying and/or SpaceX gets their crewed Dragon capsule finished, the complete reliance on Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to and from the ISS will be over, which will free up seats on the three-person Soyuz.
The plan is that Roscosmos would sell two of those three seats to paying tourists; according to Popular Mechanics, they’d only need to sell 36 trips (18 Soyuz flights) for the module to start making money. PopMech also points out that this number is only 0.33% of the world’s supply of individuals who could, theoretically, afford such a trip.
It may seem like a long shot, but it’s worth remembering that the Russians have sold this before: they’re the only country to actually have sold and provided space tourist flights, starting with Dennis Tito’s trip to the ISS back in 2001.
Since Tito, there have been six more paying tourists to go to the ISS, and none of them have died, so that’s a good thing for the space tourism agents to mention.
Russia’s ability to follow through on their ISS commitments has been pretty checkered, though since money is usually the reason, perhaps this for-profit venture will succeed where others have failed. I’m not going to lie—if I had that kind of money, I’d sure as hell be interested.
Of course I don’t have the money. At all.