Russian firm unveils plan for first space hotel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The lead Russian contractor for the International Space Station (ISS) says it plans to build the first hotel in space to cash in on a growing market for private tourism, a senior executive said on Thursday.

Energia, part owned by the Russian state, wants investors for a private space station that would house up to seven people and serve as a hotel, said Alexander Derechin, the company’s deputy chief designer.

“Commercial space ships are being built around the world, they will need to fly somewhere,” Derechin told Reuters.

Energia has paired with start-up Orbital Technologies, which will raise investment and market the services.

Enthusiasm by the super-rich for space tourism has rocketed in recent years. Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways, said earlier this year it is aiming to test space launch flights in 2011.

The hotel will provide facilities for scientific research, media projects and entertainment and will be able to dock with Russia’s Soyuz manned spacecraft and Progress transport craft, Orbital said in a statement.

Private investors have pledged to commit between $100 million and $1 billion, said Derechin. Orbital said several customers have already signed contracts.

“I do not think we will be able to complete it before 2015 but I do not think we should wait much beyond that. The competition is growing and we need to hurry up,” Derechin said.

Derechin said the Russian project will compete with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based firm headed by hotelier Robert Bigelow, owner of Budget Suites of America, which also plans to build a space complex.

Earlier this year, Russia said it would temporarily halt trips for space tourists as it did not have spare capacity on Soyuz flights as the ISS expanded to accommodate a permanent crew of six.

Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Matthew Jones