Russian corporations plan first commercial space station

Paul Raven @ 30-09-2010

Well, it ain’t quite DS9, and it’s still only a drawing-board plan at this stage, but even so…

Called the Commercial Space Station, the orbiting space laboratory and hotel will be able to host up to seven people at a time. It is being planned under a partnership between the Russian companies Orbital Technologies and RSC Energia.

The companies announced plans for the new space station today (Sept. 29) but did not reveal an estimated cost. The space station is expected to launch sometime between 2015 and 2016. The cost of individual trips may vary based on launch vehicle, duration and purpose of missions.

“Once launched and operational, the CSS will provide a unique destination for commercial, state and private spaceflight exploration missions,” said Orbital Technologies chief executive Sergey Kostenko in a statement. “The CSS will be a valuable addition to the global base of orbital assets.”

Seven people at a time? Well, you gotta start somewhere, I guess… and frankly it’s nice to see that commercial interests outside the US haven’t become entirely immune to the seductive lure of the top of the gravity well.

And once you’ve got one stable base up there, building more becomes progressively easier, if only logistically (or at least, so I assume – corrective links and braindumps very much invited and appreciated from more space-savvy readers).

[ Internet serendipity again; today’s been something of a space riff, no? ]


US$330,000 for a virtual space station?

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2010

For the vast majority of readers here, I expect virtual economies consume very little of your meatspace money, if any at all. But some folk place a huge real-money value on intangible virtual items… via Cheryl Morgan comes news of a guy who just spuffed US$330,000 on a virtual space station in the Entropia Universe MMO:

Entropia Universe is well known for its “real cash economy,” where $1 can buy you 10 PEDs (Project Entropia dollars) in the virtual world. The Crystal Palace is a huge virtual space station that orbits the Planet Calypso.

Well the auction just ended, and one “lucky” man (Buzz “Erik” Lightyear) has just won the Crystal Palace for 3,300,000 PED. If you haven’t figured it already, that translates to $330,000 USD.

[…] the purchase may be strategic — the owner stands to make money off the shops, transactions, and activities that occur on his virtual space station. And if online gaming and virtual currency continue their growth trends in 2010, the man could potentially make his money back.

As pointed out, a purchase of that size currently screams “rich guy with money to waste on having fun”(which I can’t bring myself to begrudge entirely), especially if you look at the video clips of the space station’s interior (which looks a lot like a custom level for the Doom engine, IMHO).

But virtual economies and entirely intangible businesses haven’t gone away, despite the headlines dying off periodically… I fully expect we’ll see more of this in the year to come.


Space is the place

Paul Raven @ 15-07-2009

CGI rendering of the International Space Station Thanks to the anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings, everyone’s talking about space at the moment – and it’s still as contentious and passionate a subject as ever. [image by FlyingSinger]

Charlie Stross looks back at the Moon landings and decides that despite the huge advances in technology since the 60s, NASA’s proposed Constellation Moon landing program is unlikely to come off:

Today we lack a vital resource that both Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev took for granted: thousands of engineers with the experience of designing, building, and launching new types of rocket in a matter of years or even months. We used to have them, but some time in the past 40 years they all retired. We’ve got the institutions and the data and the better technology, but we don’t have the experience those early pioneers had. And I’m betting that the process of rebuilding all that institutional competence is going to run over budget. While NASA’s Constellation program might work, and while it could deliver far more valuable lunar science than Apollo ever did, it will inevitably cost much more than NASA’s official estimates suggest, because it’s too big a project for today’s NASA — NASA, and indeed the entire space industrial sector in the USA, would have to grow, structurally, to make it work.

Elsewhere, Paul McAuley laments the ‘disposable space truck’ model of space flight, saying it’s:

like building an ocean liner to cross the Atlantic and setting fire to it when you reach New York.

Meanwhile, SpaceX have just completed their first commercial satellite launch, successfully putting a Malaysian Earth-imaging sat into orbit.

SpaceX landed a NASA contract for hauling cargo up to the ISS some time ago, but it looks like they won’t be able to rely on that as a long-term entry on the balance sheet, as Bruce Sterling points to an article in the Washington Post wherein NASA’s space program manager announces the controversial plan to de-orbit (and hence destroy) the International Space Station when the budget runs out in 2016:

Suffredini raised some eyebrows when, at a public hearing last month, he declared flatly that the plan is to de-orbit the station in 2016. He addressed his comments to a panel chaired by former aerospace executive Norman Augustine that is charged by the Obama administration with reviewing the entire human spaceflight program. Everything is on the table — missions, goals, rocket design. And right there in the mix is this big, fancy space laboratory circling the Earth from 220 miles up.

The cost of the station is both a liability and, paradoxically, a virtue. A figure commonly associated with the ISS is that it will ultimately cost the United States and its international partners about $100 billion. That may add to the political pressure to keep the space laboratory intact and in orbit rather than seeing it plunging back to Earth so soon after completion.

Apparently physicist and vocal space critic Robert Park suggests palming off the money-eating white elephant on the Chinese instead. I’d have thought auctioning it off to the highest bidder would have made more sense, and I’m pretty sure there’s be some interested parties – China included, but plenty of non-state parties also.

And finally, via Warren Ellis comes something for flicking your geek switches – HFradio.org can supply you with space weather updates via Twitter. As Ellis remarks, “it’s like the Shipping Forecast for space”… now all we need is a way to convert it to an audio stream. Anyone got a zero-g Nabaztag?


Space Elevator Games 2007

Paul Raven @ 19-10-2007

University of Saskatchewan's space elevator climber This week sees the 2007 Space Elevator Games taking place near Salt Lake City, Utah; contestants from all over the world will be attempting to break records with their climber, tether and power transmission system designs in an attempt to win the $1million prize. Think what you like about the feasibility of space elevators, but you can’t deny the almost Quixotic glory of such an event – a testament to the human ability to dream big. Follow the progress of the event at the aptly-named Space Elevator Blog, which has been posting vigorously on the preliminary rounds. [Image from SpaceElevatorBlog]

[tags]space elevator, competition, space station, technology[/tags]

Self-sufficient space station proposed

Paul Raven @ 10-10-2007

Artist's impression of a lunar habitat module Yet another classic science fiction trope that real-world science is reaching towards: a team of scientists have come up with a design for a space station named "Luna Gaia" that works on similar principles to a biosphere – a "closed-loop" ecology where almost all waste products are recycled by the system. [Image credited to NASA]

The ISS runs on a type of closed-loop system already, but the recycling processes are largely based on chemical reactions; the biosphere design would use plants and algae instead, as far as is practically possible, and should be theoretically capable of sustaining twelve astronauts for three years. The diet sounds a bit dull, though …

[tags]space station, biosphere, astronauts[/tags]