Swanky Space Hotel Concept Revealed

Swanky Space Hotel Concept Revealed
An artist's interpretation of a space hotel room attached to the bottom of the International Space Station. The room was designed by graduate students at the Imperial College of London and the Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom. (Image credit: Imperial College of London/RCA)

Space tourism may face some challenges with the uncertainty over thenext-generation rides into space. But that hasn?t stopped Earth designers fromenvisioning future space hotels for paying thrill seekers.

A robot concierge, a redesigned showerhead and a full-sensory exercisewall are just part of the SpaceHotel Project created by master's degree students in a program hosted byImperial College London and the Royal College of Art in the UK. The conceptcould theoretically attach to the International Space Station, so long as the growingspaceoutpost remains in orbit.

"From personal hygiene to sleeping in zero gravity, we encouragedthe students to be completely creative with their solutions so that the livingconditions in the world?s most isolated hotel could be as comfortable aspossible," said Daniele Bedini, a space architecture expert who has workedfor NASA and the European Space Agency on moon and Mars base designs.

The new space hotel concept includes a rigid module similar to Europe'sColumbus laboratory on the space station, as well as an inflatable spheredeveloped by Thales Alenia Space in Italy.

Bedini told SPACE.com that the space hotel could be builttomorrow with today's existing structures and technologies. He compared theprocess to luxury airlines buying an airplane structure and personalizing theinterior.

Keeping clean in microgravity

Space hygiene has always proved a challenge, but space hotel designerstackled everything from smaller vacuum-powered toilets to new clothing to keep odors down.

"There are no washing machines or tumble dryers in space so we hadto design clothes that enabled the skin to breathe, which reduces sweating,smells and the need for clothes to be washed," said Katrin Baumgarten, astudent in the Innovation Design Engineering program at Imperial CollegeLondon. "We achieved this by using natural fibers that breathe and we alsomade small chest flaps, which let the air in to keep the body cool andcomfortable."

A redesigned showerhead could also help tackle the washingproblem in space by using many small holes to squirt small amounts of waterand soap, and another set of holes to suck up water for recycling. Water onlycomes out of the holes in contact with the skin, and so avoids leaving liquidglobules floating around.

Cleaning up after stray food crumbs or globules may similarly become acinch. An "AirMaid" cycle would operate during the night period onthe space hotel to suck any offending particles out of the air, just like thespace station's air conditioning unit operates.

A personal touch in space

Staying fit and healthy on a space vacation need not resemble a grimdaily ritual. Student designers suggested an exercise wall and a routine wherespace tourists would pull on elastic bands in time with lights and music. Butastronauts may still prefer running on the COLBERTtreadmill named for comedian Stephen Colbert.

Food would also become a snap with customizable menu, and a robotic armthat connects food containers in rows to create a tray-table.

The redesigned space hotel experience extends to the waking and sleepingpatterns, which face the challenge of dealing with 16 sunrises and sunsetswithin the span of typical Earth day as the station orbits the planet every 90minutes.

Astronauts on the space station today typically adhere to a daily scheduleanchored to Greenwich Mean Time, which dictates when their work days begin andend.

Space hotel designers decided to incorporate light-emitting diodes (LEDs)into the walls and storage spaces, and leave the natural light coming fromoutside. The exterior glass would only darken to reduce the level of incominglight during Earth's night cycle, and help space tourists adjust to the new patternsof night and day.

A stand-alone lamp powered by glowing algae might also accompany spacetourists wherever they go, the student designers proposed. That could serve asa poignant reminder of the life swarming across the planet below.

Getting off the ground

Any space hotel or tourism concepts must overcome a stiff challenge froma budget crunch.

Space tourists going up to the space station face a squeeze for seats onthe Russian Soyuz spacecraft, if NASA follows an original plan to end space shuttleflights by 2010. That would require the U.S. space agency's astronauts to takeRussian rides into orbit until NASA's Constellation program finds its legs.

The shortfall in manned spacecraft capability has space tourist outfitsseriously worried, given that their paying passengers may lack the rides to getwhere they're going. One company, Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, Nev., aproponent of inflatable space station modules and future space hotels, hasproposed how to rescue the Constellation program and its Orion spacecraft withan Orion-Lite concept that pares down NASA?s original design.

Still, uncertainty has not stopped Bedini and his students from workingon ways to inject fresh food into their tray-table concept. Bedini also wantsto test of a floating camera on the space station, which could eventually leadto a robot concierge snapping vacation photos for space tourists.

Some of the ideas could become reality under Bedini's contract withThales Alenia Space. Bedini even hopes to pitch the space hotel concept toprivate companies and space agencies, and perhaps make the space station aneven livelier place in the future.

Designers who want a taste of extreme interior decorating can sign upfor Bedini's course in Space Design at the Royal College of Art in London next year.

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Contributing Writer

Jeremy Hsu is science writer based in New York City whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Discovery Magazine, Backchannel, Wired.com and IEEE Spectrum, among others. He joined the Space.com and Live Science teams in 2010 as a Senior Writer and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Indicate Media.  Jeremy studied history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, and earned a master's degree in journalism from the NYU Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. You can find Jeremy's latest project on Twitter