Out of This World

NASA taps a Houston startup to design a hotel for the ISS

An interior rendering of the Philippe Stark-designed habitable capsule from 2018. (Courtesy Axiom Space)

The commercialization of the International Space Station (ISS), a plan NASA formalized in June of last year, continues as the space agency has announced plans for the orbiting station’s first hotel capsule.

On January 27, NASA revealed that they had selected the Houston-based startup Axiom Space to design and build the first habitable commercial capsule.

Axiom was founded in 2016 with plenty of former NASA members on board and boasts a unique business model. The company’s ultimate goal, after attaching enough of its own modules to the ISS, is to ultimately detach and open their own private space station when the older structure is retired. Assuming the partnership continues, this first hotel capsule could eventually be the beginning of an entirely new, semi-parasitic station.

Rendering of a space station

Rendering of the completed Axiom Station, which would be formed from linked capsules formerly attached to the ISS. (Courtesy Axiom Space)

Design-wise, in 2018 Axiom enlisted architect Philippe Stark to mockup what the space hotel and modules could look like. According to their website, “Dedicated to sharing an ethical and subversive version of a fairer planet, the famed French creator designed the Axiom modules to evoke a comfortable egg which preserves life in space’s ‘multi-directional freedom.’”

That is to say, from the outside the segments look like fairly traditional, oblong segments that currently make up the ISS. Inside, however, Stark has decked out the capsule with gold accents, touch screens, nets, handles, and observatory spaces, creating spaces capable of handling 360-degree movement while affording lux views of the Earth below.

An astronaut floating in a glass bulb

Observatory areas would provide crew members with nearly unobstructed views. (Courtesy Axiom Space)

According to NASA, developing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as an attractive destination for private astronauts (tourists) is the first step in their five-point plan to industrialize space.

“The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA’s long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit.”

At the time of writing, Axiom and NASA are still hashing out pricing and a timeline for the capsule. The company’s ability to deliver on the space hotel in a timely manner is especially important as direct government support of the ISS is set to expire in 2025, putting the station’s future beyond that in doubt.

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