Space is just another place where humans are going to live. And because space is almost limitless humans are going to live there in vast numbers in the future - in other words, it will become a whole new habitat.
Today most activities in space are government ones because getting to and from space is so expensive. Once travel to and from orbit is cheap enough, as on Earth, most activities in space will be carried out by individuals, private companies and organizations. At that time space activities will involve almost every industry - not just the aerospace industry but construction and interior design, catering and drinks, fashion and music, sports and entertainment, advertising and law, to name just a few.
Obviously, if people are going to live in space, they are going to need somewhere to live. Hotels are all very well for tourists, but workers will have more practical needs for their permanent accommodation - being close to work for one.
Living in space for long periods of time, or even permanently, is far more serious a prospect than merely staying for a few days or weeks. Much research in space today concerns the effect on the body of living in weightlessness or "zero gravity" for long periods. While this isn't a concern for tourists (we already know that living in zero G for a few weeks has no harmful effects) the long-term effects of low gravity have both benefits and drawbacks to health.
Here are some key documents from the archive to get you started:
The design of hotels in orbit is a feast for the imagination of architects and interior designers. The basic ideas have been well understood since people lived safely in the US space station "Skylab" in 1973-74 (see " A House in Space" by H Cooper). But the cost of getting to and from orbit has remained so high that tourism hasn't got started yet, and so there's been little incentive for anyone to make the effort required to design true orbital hotels. However, remembering that the hotel industry (or "hospitality industry") is a huge, highly competitive, global industry, we can foresee that once accommodation in orbit gets started as a business, it will grow and grow as companies compete to provide more interesting services for their guests.
The first hotels
The very first phase will probably comprise no more than clusters of pre-fabricated cylindrical modules, giving scope for interior designers more than for architects or engineers. But even inside a cylinder, in zero G there's surprising scope for interesting layouts. For example, there's the possibility of using the "ceiling" of a room such as a bar as the "floor" for people sitting the other way up. Guests might not even notice the other users of the room - until they looked up "above" them!
As the business grows, there will be a demand for larger and more complex structures to be assembled in orbit, and there will be almost no limit to the range of shapes and sizes that will be built. Larger volumes will be used for atriums, sports halls, gardens with 3-D paths through the greenery (think of it!), swimming pools, and other purposes.
New environment - new rules
The orbital environment will create a great variety of new possibilities. For example, an interesting difference from hotels on Earth is that buildings in orbit will be able to "grow", just by adding pieces on - a new module, a new docking port, or a whole new wing! So it will be possible to add to a hotel more or less continually - more guest rooms, a new lounge, or even a sports stadium that's been assembled and checked out nearby in orbit. It will also be possible to remove old parts that are no longer up to date - leading to an orbital market for second-hand accommodation facilities!
This possibility of enlargement and redesign will create fascinating new possibilities for hotel design, and will be a speciality of the new profession of space architects, who'll have to combine architectural and interior design skills with some knowledge of aerospace engineering, orbital mechanics and business. As hotels and apartment blocks grow to hundreds of meters in dimensions, their design and construction will join the field of "large space structures".
Another difference from hotels on Earth is that orbital hotels will also need to be boosted periodically in their orbits, since even at an altitude of several hundred kilometers there is some air resistance which slowly lowers their orbits. This will require measuring and controlling the center of mass of a hotel as it grows, since that will affect its orbital position and stability. This will be one of the responsibilities of the managers of an orbital hotel. But they must also consider their guests when adjusting the hotel's orbit, in order to prevent bath water slopping into the bedrooms, for example! Another operational issue will be that of time-zones on-board. Guests will be arriving from all parts of the world, and they won't want to waste too much time sleeping, so 24 hour services will surely be needed, which will pose further challenges to designers.
We're surely also like to see "themed" orbital facilities. Think of any of the really popular space stories - Yamato, Flash Gordon, Dan Dare, Harlock, Thunderbirds, Gundam, Tintin, Macross (can you think of any others?) - and facilities can be designed to match, so guests can float through and live in their favourite spaceship. And many religious groups will surely also wish to build orbiting temples.
Putting a spin on things
Although the zero-G environment will create enormous scope for imaginative use of 3-D layouts of rooms, corridors, public space, and others, some hotels will be designed to rotate to create artificial gravity, at least in some parts of the hotel. Another new world for designers! The first constraint is that the axis of a rotating hotel will keep a fixed direction relative to the distant stars. There are many different layouts that might be used to achieve certain benefits - such as a viewing lounge permanently pointing at the Earth while the hotel axis remains fixed (think about it...). Which will be most popular with guests, no-one knows yet: time will tell!
As increasing efforts are being made to bring space tourism about, we're now coming within sight of the low launch costs that are needed. In order for the vehicle makers and operators to be able to get their costs down, they need plenty of customers. Attractive orbiting accommodation is going to be one of the keys to generating the large scale of launch activity needed to drive launch costs down as low as possible - and low launch costs make orbiting hotels easier to plan and build. So we look forward to lively competition among the coming profession of commercial space architects. It's a field crying out for new leaders - and are they going to get famous!
Though a certain amount has been published about requirements for living in space, there's still very little significant work on orbital hotels. Kraft Ehricke wrote a notable paper on a large orbital hotel in 1967. In 1989 Shimizu Corporation published a paper on a smaller, but still advanced design, concluding (correctly) that it would be commercially feasible once launch costs fell to a few percent of space shuttle costs. In 1990 David Ashford & Patrick Collins published an advanced design in their book "Your Spaceflight Manual: How you could be a tourist in space within 20 years". In 1994 Chuck Lauer published his design for a "space business park" including hotel accommodation. In 1997 Howard Wolff and colleagues published a paper on a design for near-term orbital accommodation using space shuttle external propellant tanks - an idea used earlier by External Tanks Corporation. Theodore Hall, at the University of Michigan and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has published a doctoral dissertation and several conference papers on architectural design for artificial gravity (see above).
A number of movies and TV series, such as "2001" and "Space Island One", have had notable designs of orbiting craft, but it's usually been unclear whether they're commercial or government facilities.
'Black sky' thinking
Interestingly, although there's limitless scope for imagination, all the way up to the scale of "space colonies" housing thousands of people, it's quite simple to design zero-G accommodation, because in weightlessness almost any 3-D shape is okay - they don't collapse under their weight - so long as the structure is strong enough to support an internal pressure of one atmosphere - just a bit stronger than a modern airliner. So anyone can exercise their imaginations coming up with neat ideas.
Here are a few questions to get you thinking: What will you put on the walls/floor - wallpaper or carpet? What shape seats will you make in a zero-G bar? How will you move people between floors? Feel free to send us your designs; we'll be happy to display what we judge to be worthy work - with your name!