Monday, October 21, 2019

Japan to join Artemis program

WASHINGTON — The Japanese government plans to join NASA in its Artemis program of lunar exploration, although the details about how it will contribute remain to be worked out.

In an Oct. 18 statement posted on Twitter, the office of Japanese Prime Minister Shinz┼Ź Abe said that his government’s Strategic Headquarters for National Space Policy had decided the country would join NASA in its plans to return humans to the moon, one that could lead to Japanese astronauts one day setting foot there.

“At long last, Japan too will turn over a new page leading to lunar and space exploration,” Abe said in an English-language statement. “Today, we decided on a policy of participating in the U.S.’s challenging new venture, as an ally connected to the U.S. by strong bonds.”

In a separate Japanese-language document, the government outline several reasons for participating in the NASA-led effort, including diplomacy and security, international competitiveness, commercial opportunities and support for later missions to Mars.

“The program aims at maintaining a space station orbiting the moon, manned exploration of the lunar surface, and other undertakings, and Mars and other destinations are also in our sights,” Abe’s office said.

The Japanese statement said Japan would work with NASA and other partners to coordinate its participation in several ways. That includes offering technologies that could support the early lunar Gateway, providing logistics services with its next-generation HTV-X cargo vehicle, sharing data used for the selection of lunar landing sites and other lunar transportation services.

The statement didn’t explicitly state whether Japan was still interested in contributing elements to the lunar Gateway. In previous statements by the Multilateral Coordination Board, which oversees issues regarding the International Space Station, the Japanese space agency JAXA proposed “habitation functions” for the Gateway’s second phase, after the initial return to the lunar surface in 2024.

Japan becomes the second major spacefaring nation to announce its intent to cooperate on Artemis. In February, Canada announced it would develop a robotic arm for the Gateway, spending about $1.5 billion over the next 24 years.

Both countries are partners on the ISS, which is governed by an intergovernmental agreement, or IGA. That agreement, or something like it, is likely to be the basis for formalizing cooperation among those countries that also plan to participate in Artemis.

“We’re not going to do anything new. We’re going to use that same system as we move forward,” Sumara Thompson-King, NASA’s general counsel, said during a panel discussion at a University of Nebraska College of Law space law conference here Oct. 18. “We’re going to build upon the collaboration and coordination that we have already been engaged to get the space station operational.”

The announcement also comes just before the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) that starts here Oct. 21. The potential roles for both traditional partners, like those involved in the ISS, as well as emerging space nations is likely to be a major subject of discussion during the conference.

The agreement could also open new opportunities for Japanese companies to participate in lunar exploration. Among those companies is ispace, which is developing commercial lunar landers and is also partnered with a U.S.-based entity, Draper, to offer similar services to NASA through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

“We welcome this development with great optimism for the future of lunar exploration, as well as the relationship between Japan and the United States,” Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive of ispace, said in a statement to SpaceNews. “We firmly believe the Draper-ispace partnership can complement the U.S.-Japan efforts for a sustainable return to the Moon at the commercial level.”

Why isn't Germany taking over the moon?

By and large, "Made in Germany" is not the driving force behind companies in Europe's powerhouse preparing to go to space. The country spends millions on the industry but not nearly enough, say critics.

At a recent gathering in Berlin of space technology businesses the mood was upbeat. Yet while astronaut Matthias Maurer was stealing the show and beguiling schoolchildren and adults alike, there were important issues floating through the air. The biggest question wasn't about colonizing Mars, sending millionaire tourists to the moon or even mining it for minerals. The biggest question of all was: Why isn't tech wonderland Germany at the head of the space race?

Besides giants Airbus and OHB in Bremen, there are a lot of smaller companies and startups looking toward the stars throughout Germany. Standing above all these private companies is the European Space Agency (ESA), an organization made up of 22 member countries with a total budget of €5.72 billion ($6.39 billion) for 2019.

After France, the German government is its second-biggest cash contributor. For this money, Berlin was able to get two prizes: ESA Mission Control in Darmstadt and the astronaut training center in Cologne. This may sound like a big win, but they came at a steep price. Germany's contribution to ESA this year alone was €927 million.

At home Germany spends an additional €285 million on space programs. This may seem like a lot, but it's a pittance compared with France's €726 million. Overall Germany only spends 0.05% of GDP on such programs. This puts them behind India, Italy, Japan, China ,Russia, France and the US which spends 0.224% according to Goldman Sachs' European Space Policy Institute.

Missing the boat

But no matter how much is being spent, many are critical about how it is spent. Right now the lion's share of government cash goes to the major players, Airbus and OHB. Tom Segert, director of business and strategy at the startup Berlin Space Technologies, is one of those who sees change coming though. "We are having a moment where the big players in Germany, but also the smaller players, are waking up. They realize something big is going to happen," he told DW. 

In Germany, "we have the technology, but we don't have the demand," said Segert, pointing to the fact that these conglomerates are working on big international projects and building big satellites, not the smaller ones businesses actually want. This is the gap that Berlin Space Technologies wants to fill. 

Founded in 2010 by three friends, the startup now has 29 employees who work to design small satellites systems — anywhere from the size of a microwave oven to a washing machine — and the technology behind them. 

"Space seemed to be the place where you can always do something new, something that nobody has done before. I didn't know about the bureaucracy that was awaiting me and about all the pitfalls of a government-driven space program," said Segert. Nonetheless, the company has so far taken part in over 50 space missions. 

Making a prototype can take 1-2 years. But the company wants to move away from individual satellites into mass manufacturing, and for this they have started a joint venture in India. Once a satellite goes into large-scale mass production, the building time can be reduced to one or two weeks. This drives down costs, and having more satellites in orbit creates a network, a "constellation of satellites" in space. 

The forefront of technology

In general, Segert thinks that for most companies building satellites is a waste of resources. They should instead focus on services and data. "The biggest chances for European startups are in the downstream because they are getting the data for free [from NASA or ESA]. It's not the best data, but they get some data for free which is a big hurdle for everybody else."

Focusing more on services will lead to the demise of many manufacturing companies. Only the strongest will survive — Darwin in space — a typical process in maturing industries.

At the same time industry associations are pushing Germany to build a spaceport, or launching center, of its own. They are not talking about those big enough to send humans into space, but one that would enable companies to launch rockets and satellites without depending on other countries. Today only a handful of countries have this capability. Bringing it closer to home would make things easier. 

Though such prestige projects fascinate the public, space programs have developed many technologies that have come into normal use and impact daily life. Things like batteries, ceramics, solar technologies, autonomous driving and the use of lightweight metals were all advanced thanks to space innovations.

A shot in the dark

Newer technologies using satellites include better communications, weather forecasting and navigation. Images from space can be used to monitor coral reefs, forests, water levels, fires or natural disasters. They can also watch pipelines, trains and power lines. These images can teach about the Earth and bring home the ideas of global warming.

To make the most of the possibilities in space, Segert from Berlin Space Technologies would like to see industry do more of the things that ESA, Airbus or OHB do — things that are often funded by taxpayers. He also warns companies to stick to the things they are good at like making equipment, components, satellites, rockets, organizing launches or providing services. Not everything at once.

"I am very doubtful about hardware startups that are founded right now because they are very late to the game," concluded Segert. For him the future of the space business in Germany is unclear, it can go two ways: The first would be a business-as-usual model in which the government spends ever-increasing amounts of money to keep national champions alive that skew the marking and where no real progress is made.

In the second model the government, taxpayers and companies would see that things have not been done in the most efficient way. The government will get out of the business of making satellites and turn into a consumer of services. This would lead to a decline in satellite manufactures and costs. Then the focus would be on data, the gold of the 21st century.

Space offers nearly infinite possibilities and a lot of room to grow. Now 50 years after the first moon landing, the real test will be to see if governments will create the legal framework to govern space and then step aside and let the market take over and give consumers what they want. Germany as a big spender can nudge it either way.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Full Speed Ahead

Warp drive is, arguably, the holy grail of space exploration. With a propulsion system capable of faster-than-light-speed travel, humanity could reach distant corners of the galaxy and beyond.

Unfortunately, warp drives have long been relegated to the realm of science fiction — but according to aerospace engineering professor Jason Cassibry, scientists are getting closer to cracking the physics of a warp drive straight out of “Star Trek.”

Enormous Progress

Cassibry teaches at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, where he advises undergraduate student Joseph Agnew, author of a recently published warp drive study that got the scientific world buzzing.

In a recent interview with Motherboard, Cassibry noted that “theoretical progress” toward building warp drives “has been enormous” thanks to the efforts of Agnew and other researchers.

First Steps

Theoretical progress is one thing, though — physically building a warp drive is another, and as Cassibry noted in his interview with Motherboard, scientists still have “a long way to go” before they reach that latter goal.

Still, the first step toward building anything is making it work on paper, and the increasing scientific interest in warp drives could lead to the creation of a system that actually lets us zip around space at a speed faster than light. Some day, anyway.


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Five things we learned from Elon Musk's rollout of the SpaceX Starship prototype

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship Mars spaceship could reach orbit in less than six months and fly humans next year, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said Saturday during an unveiling at the company's facility in south Texas.

Standing in front of the towering stainless steel prototype known as Starship Mk 1, Musk told an audience the Hawthorne company would be building versions of the spacecraft in rapid succession at two different SpaceX facilities—one near Boca Chica Beach in Texas and one in Cocoa, Fla.

The goal is to build at least two per site before SpaceX starts work on the Super Heavy rocket booster that will power Starship to orbit. Both Starship and Super Heavy are intended to eventually replace SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket and its newer Falcon Heavy rocket, which first launched last year.

Musk did not give an updated timeline for when Starship—essentially a second-stage rocket and lander—would go to Mars. SpaceX has said its "aspirational goal" is to send cargo missions to the Red Planet in 2022.

"It's going to be pretty epic to see this thing take off and come back," said Musk said of Starship.

Here are some other takeaways from Musk's presentation.

1. Starship Mk 1 could launch soon

Musk estimated that the prototype could be test-launched to an altitude of about 60,000 feet in one to two months. Musk, however, is known for overly optimistic timelines—in 2016, SpaceX said it could send an uncrewed Dragon capsule to Mars as soon as 2018. That mission did not happen, and SpaceX's plans for Mars changed to use Starship, rather than Dragon capsules.

2. SpaceX is building Starships quickly

SpaceX's team at Boca Chica Beach built Starship Mk 1 in about four to five months, Musk said. That was after he changed the design from a carbon fiber exterior to stainless steel—a design he said would be cheaper, heat-resistant and would result in a similarly strong, lightweight vehicle.

3. This rocket system will have a lot of fire power

The Starship spaceship will have six Raptor rocket engines, which use liquid oxygen and methane as propellant. The Super Heavy booster could have as many as 37 Raptor engines, though Musk said that number was still in flux and could drop to as few as 24.

When stacked together, Starship and Super Heavy will be about 387 feet tall, more than twice the height of the Starship Mk 1 that was the centerpiece of Saturday's event.The completed Starship and Super Heavy stack would be 150 feet taller than United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket, which is the tallest U.S. operational rocket today.

4. Starship development only involves a small portion of the company

Though Starship was the focus of Saturday's event, Musk said less than 5% of SpaceX's resources were dedicated to working on development of the Mars spaceship.

"From a SpaceX resource standpoint," Musk said, "our resources are overwhelmingly on Falcon and Dragon."

Musk is under pressure to deliver on other programs. In addition to commercial and government satellite launches, SpaceX is also under contract with NASA, as is Boeing Co., to develop separate crewed spacecraft capable of carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX flew an uncrewed Dragon capsule to the space station in March, but that capsule was later destroyed in an accident during a ground test.

On Friday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that although he was "looking forward to the SpaceX announcement" Saturday, the commercial crew astronaut transport program was "years behind schedule."

"NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer," Bridenstine tweeted. "It's time to deliver."

Both SpaceX's and Boeing's schedules for capsule test launches have slipped over the years.

5. Musk is interested in a lunar presence

Musk said Saturday it would be "very exciting to have a base on the moon," adding that a base focused on scientific research would be useful.

His moon musings come as NASA has stated that it plans to return to the moon and land astronauts at the moon's South Pole by 2024.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Scientists Are Starting to Take Warp Drives Seriously, Especially One Specific Concept

It's hard living in a relativistic Universe, where even the nearest stars are so far away and the speed of light is absolute. It is little wonder then why science fiction franchises routinely employ FTL (Faster-than-Light) as a plot device.

Push a button, press a petal, and that fancy drive system – whose workings no one can explain – will send us to another location in space-time.

However, in recent years, the scientific community has become understandably excited and skeptical about claims that a particular concept – the Alcubierre Warp Drive – might actually be feasible.

This was the subject of a presentation made at this year's American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Propulsion and Energy Forum, which took place from August 19th to 22nd in Indianapolis.

This presentation was conducted by Joseph Agnew – an undergraduate engineer and research assistant from the University of Alabama in Huntsville's Propulsion Research Center (PRC).

As part of a session titled "The Future of Nuclear and Breakthrough Propulsion", Agnew shared the results of a study he conducted titled "An Examination of Warp Theory and Technology to Determine the State of the Art and Feasibility"

As Agnew explained to a packed house, the theory behind a warp propulsion system is relatively simple.

Originally proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994, this concept for an FTL system is viewed by man as a highly theoretical (but possibly valid) solution to the Einstein field equations, which describe how space, time and energy in our Universe interact.

In layman's terms, the Alcubierre Drive achieves FTL travel by stretching the fabric of space-time in a wave, causing the space ahead of it to contract while the space behind it expands.

In theory, a spacecraft inside this wave would be able to ride this "warp bubble" and achieve velocities beyond the speed of light. This is what is known as the "Alcubierre Metric".

Interpreted in the context of General Relativity, the interior of this warp bubble would constitute the inertial reference frame for anything inside it. By the same token, such bubbles can appear in a previously flat region of spacetime and exceed the speed of light.

Since the ship is not moving through space-time (but moving space-time itself), conventional relativistic effects (like time dilation) would not apply.

In short, the Alcubierre Metric allows for FTL travel without violating the laws of relativity in the conventional sense. As Agnew told Universe Today via email, he was inspired by this concept as early as high school and has been pursuing it ever since:

"I delved into mathematics and science more, and, as a result, started to become interested in science fiction and advanced theories on a more technical scale. I started watching Star Trek, the Original series and The Next Generation, and noticed how they had predicted or inspired the invention of cell phones, tablets, and other amenities.

I thought about some of the other technologies, such as photon torpedoes, phasers, and warp drive, and tried to research both what the 'star trek science' and 'real world science equivalent' had to say about it. I then stumbled across the original paper by Miguel Alcubierre, and after digesting it for a while, I started pursuing other keywords and papers and getting deeper into the theory."

While the concept was generally dismissed for being entirely theoretical and highly speculative, it has had new life breathed into it in recent years. The credit for this goes largely to Harold "Sonny" White, the Advanced Propulsion Team Lead for at the NASA Johnson Space Center's Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory (aka. "Eagleworks Laboratory").

During the 100 Year Starship Symposium in 2011, White shared some updated calculations of the Alcubierre Metric, which were the subject of a presentation titled "Warp Field Mechanics 101" (and a study of the same name).

According to White, Alcubierre's theory was sound but needed some serious testing and development. Since then, he and his colleagues have been doing these very things through the Eagleworks Lab.

In a similar vein, Agnew has spent much of his academic career researching the theory and mechanics behind warp mechanics. Under the mentorship of Jason Cassibry – an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and a faculty member of the UAH's Propulsion Research Center – Agnew's work has culminated in a study that addresses the major hurdles and opportunities presented by warp mechanics research.

As Agnew related, one of the greatest is the fact that the concept of the "warp drive" is still not taken very seriously in scientific circles:

"In my experience, the mention of warp drive tends to bring chuckles to the conversation because it is so theoretical and right out of science fiction. In fact, often it is met with dismissive remarks, and used as an example of something totally outlandish, which is understandable.

I know in my own case, I initially had grouped it, mentally, into the same category as typical superluminal concepts, since obviously they all violate the 'speed of light is the ultimate speed' assumption.

It wasn't until I dug into the theory more carefully that I realized it did not have these problems. I think there would/will be much more interest when individuals delve into the progress that has been made. The historically theoretical nature of the idea is also itself a likely deterrent, as it's much more difficult to see substantial progress when you are looking at equations instead of quantitative results."

While the field is still in its infancy, there have been a number of recent developments that have helped. For example, the discovery of naturally occurring gravitational waves (GWSs) by LIGO scientists in 2016, which both confirmed a prediction made by Einstein a century ago and proves that the basis for the warp drive exists in nature.

As Agnew indicated, this is perhaps the most significant development, but not the only one:

"In the past 5-10 years or so, there has been a lot of excellent progress along the lines of predicting the anticipated effects of the drive, determining how one might bring it into existence, reinforcing fundamental assumptions and concepts, and, my personal favorite, ways to test the theory in a laboratory.

The LIGO discovery a few years back was, in my opinion, a huge leap forward in science, since it proved, experimentally, that spacetime can 'warp' and bend in the presence of enormous gravitational fields, and this is propagated out across the Universe in a way that we can measure. Before, there was an understanding that this was likely the case, thanks to Einstein, but we know for certain now."

Since the system relies on the expansion and compression of spacetime, said Agnew, this discovery demonstrated that some of these effects occur naturally.

"Now that we know the effect is real, the next question, in my mind, is, 'how do we study it, and can we generate it ourselves in the lab?'" he added. "Obviously, something like that would be a huge investment of time and resources, but would be massively beneficial."

Of course, the Warp Drive concept requires additional support and numerous advances before experimental research will be possible. These include advances in terms of the theoretical framework as well as technological advancements.

If these are treated as "bite-size" problems instead of one massive challenge, said Agnew, then progress is sure to be made:

"In essence, what is needed for a warp drive is a way to expand and contract spacetime at will, and in a local manner, such as around a small object or ship. We know for certain that very high energy densities, in the form of EM fields or mass, for example, can cause curvature in spacetime. It takes enormous amounts to do so, however, with our current analysis of the problem.

On the flipside, the technical areas should try to refine the equipment and process as much as possible, making these high energy densities more plausible. I believe there is a chance that once the effect can be duplicated on a lab scale, it will lead to a much deeper understanding of how gravity works, and may open the door to some as-yet-undiscovered theories or loopholes.

I suppose to summarize, the biggest hurdle is the energy, and with that comes technological hurdles, needing bigger EM fields, more sensitive equipment, etc."

The sheer amount of positive and negative energy needed to create a warp bubble remains the biggest challenge associated with Alcubierre's concept. Currently, scientists believe that the only way to maintain the negative energy density required to produce the bubble is through exotic matter. Scientists also estimate that the total energy requirement would be equivalent to the mass of Jupiter.

However, this represents a significant drop from earlier energy estimates, which claimed that it would take an energy mass equivalent to the entire Universe. Nevertheless, a Jupiter-mass amount of exotic matter is still prohibitively large. In this respect, significant progress still needs to be made to scale the energy requirements down to something more realistic.

The only foreseeable way to do this is through further advances in quantum physics, quantum mechanics and metamaterials, says Agnew. As for the technical side of things, further progress will need to be made in the creation of superconductors, interferometers, and magnetic generators. And of course, there's the issue of funding, which is always a challenge when it comes to concepts that are deemed to be "out there".

But as Agnew states, that's not an insurmountable challenge. Considering the progress that has been made so far, there are reason to be positive about the future:

"The theory has borne out thus far that it is well worth pursuing, and it is easier now than before to provide evidence that it is legitimate. In terms of justifications for allocation of resources, it is not hard to see that the ability to explore beyond our Solar System, even beyond our Galaxy, would be an enormous leap for mankind. And the growth in technology resulting from pushing the bounds of research would certainly be beneficial."

Like avionics, nuclear research, space exploration, electric cars, and reusable rocket boosters, the Alcubierre Warp Drive seems destined to be one of those concepts that will have to fight its way uphill. But if these other historical cases are any indication, eventually it may pass a point of no return and suddenly seem entirely possible!

And given our growing preoccupation with exoplanets (another exploding field of astronomy), there is no shortage of people hoping to send missions to nearby stars to search for potentially habitable planets. And as the aforementioned examples certainly demonstrate, sometimes, all that's needed to get the ball rolling is a good push…


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

SpaceX's Next Starship Prototype Taking Shape

The craft will fly next month, if all goes according to plan.

SpaceX's next Starship prototype won't be just a concept vehicle for much longer.

Construction of the test craft is proceeding apace, as two new photos posted on Twitter today (Sept. 17) by company founder and CEO Elon Musk reveal. 

One of the images shows the vehicle — apparently Starship Mk1, which is being assembled at SpaceX's South Texas facility, near the village of Boca Chica — in the background, standing behind a building that contains a variety of parts and other equipment. (SpaceX is also building a similar prototype, called Starship Mk2, at the company's Florida facilities, reasoning that a little intracompany competition will improve the vehicle's final design.)

"Droid Junkyard, Tatooine," Musk said via Twitter, referring to Luke Skywalker's home planet in the "Star Wars" movies.

The other photo is a close-up view of a ring-shaped section being lowered onto the Mk1's body. The billionaire entrepreneur had a joky caption for this one as well: "Area 51 of Area 51."

The Mk1 and Mk2 follow in the footsteps of SpaceX's Starhopper vehicle, which was retired after acing a big test flight last month. But the new vehicles are far more ambitious and more capable. Whereas Starhopper sported just a single Raptor engine and stayed within a few hundred feet of the ground, for example, the Mk1 and Mk2 will be powered by at least three Raptors and will go much higher.

SpaceX is aiming for a test flight that gets 12 miles (20 kilometers) up in October, followed by an orbital attempt "shortly thereafter," Musk said late last month.

All of these steps are leading toward the final Starship, SpaceX's planned Mars-colonizing craft. That Starship will be capable of carrying 100 passengers and will launch atop a huge rocket called the Super Heavy. Both of the elements, rocket and spaceship, will be fully and rapidly reusable, Musk has said.

The final Starship, as currently envisioned, will sport six Raptors, while the Super Heavy will be powered by 35 of the engines. Those numbers could change, however; Musk is scheduled to give a Starship design update on Sept. 28 from the South Texas site.

The Mk1 should be fully assembled by that time, he has said.

The Mk1 and Mk2 test campaigns won't be terribly lengthy, if SpaceX's planned schedules hold. Company representatives have said that the first operational flights of Starship, which are likely to be commercial satellite launches, could come as early as 2021. (Eventually, SpaceX plans to use Starship for all the company's spaceflight needs, from interplanetary colonization missions to satellite launches to point-to-point trips around Earth.)

And SpaceX is targeting 2023 for a crewed mission of the vehicle: a flight around the moon booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Designs revealed for new space hotel Von Braun Station

It's 50 years since man first stepped on the moon, and we're still harboring dreams of escaping life on Earth for the mysteries of space.

If a career as an astronaut isn't for you, perhaps the promise of a sojourn in a space hotel might be appealing.

Californian company The Gateway Foundation has released plans for the Von Braun Station, a cruise ship-style hotel floating among the stars.

The aim is to get the hotel off the ground by 2025 and make it fully operational for travel by 2027.

The Von Braun station is just one such space-based tourism option in development. Also planning to propel people into space are Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk's SpaceX company and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin aerospace company, not to mention the International Space Station -- which recently announced the possibility of commercial collaborations.

The Von Braun Station is also not the only space hotel design in the works. Earlier in 2019, US-based space tech startup Orion Span released plans for a luxury space hotel called Aurora Station, which it hopes to launch in 2022.

Among the stars

According to digitally rendered video and images released by the Gateway Foundation, the station resembles a rotating wheel, comprised of 24 modules, orbiting the Earth.

But how would the physics of the hotel work?

Tim Alatorre, senior design architect at the Gateway Foundation, says the rotating wheel would create a simulated gravity.

"The station rotates, pushing the contents of the station out to the perimeter of the station, much in the way that you can spin a bucket of water -- the water pushes out into the bucket and stays in place," he tells CNN Travel.

Near the center of the station there's no artificial gravity, Alatorre says, but as you move down the outside of the station, the feeling of gravity increases.

The Gateway Foundation's hotel design is named for Wernher von Braun, an aerospace engineer who pioneered rocket technology, first in Germany and later in the United States.

This could be viewed as a controversial move. While living in Germany, von Braun was involved in the Nazi rocket development program. He later worked on the Apollo space program in the United States.

The name was voted for by the Gateway Foundation members because the station is based on designs von Braun sketched out some 60 years ago.

"The basic physics of the station haven't changed since the 1950s, the way the station rotates," says Alatorre.

The main difference is the modern materials -- new metal alloys, carbon composites, 3D printing and launch pad technology that, says Alatorre, make a space hotel more probable in our current era.

Space tourism is an expensive game -- Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to launch passengers into sub-orbital space at the hefty sum of $250,000 per person, per trip.

Meanwhile, Aurora Station says a stay in its space hotel will cost an eyewatering $9.5 million.

Price wise, in the early phases the Von Braun hotel will also be catering to those with dollars to spend, but the foundation is hoping to make it equivalent to "a trip on a cruise or a trip to Disneyland."

Aurora Station aims to sleep just 12, whereas the Von Braun Station will sleep 352 people with a maximum capacity of 450.

Warm aesthetic

So what will Von Braun Station be like inside?

Alatorre says the hotel's aesthetic was a direct response to the Stanley Kubrick movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- just maybe not in the way you might think.

"It was almost a blueprint of what not to do," says Alatorre. "I think the goal of Stanley Kubrick was to highlight the divide between technology and humanity and so, purposefully, he made the stations and the ships very sterile and clean and alien."

Instead, Alatorre wanted to bring a slice of earth to space, to avoid a laboratorial, overly Star Trek-esque feel.

On board, there'll be warm suites with carpets and stylish monochrome touches and chic bars that wouldn't look out of place back on Earth, just with star-gazing views.

There will also be plenty of fun recreational activities for guest to enjoy, says Alatorre.

"We're going to have a number of different recreation activities and games that'll highlight the fact that you're able to do things that you can't do on Earth," he says. "Because of the weightlessness and the reduced gravity, you'll be able to jump higher, be able to lift things, be able to run in ways that you can't on Earth."

A sport that's intriguingly called "supersize basketball" is one such concept, according to Alatorre.

'Starship culture'

If it all sounds like a space-age gimmick, Alatorre is emphatic that the concept will have widespread, enduring appeal.

"People will want to go and experience this just because it's a cool new thing and they've never done it before," he admits.

"But our goal -- the overall goal of the Gateway Foundation -- is to create a starship culture where people are going to space, and living in space, and working in space and they want to be in space. And we believe that there's a demand for that."

That means having space be a place where thousands of people are "living, working and thriving."

The Gateway Foundation also intends the space station to be used for research purposes, as well as asteroid mining.

Alatorre says the Von Braun hotel wants to be "the first in orbit," but that even if the Gateway Foundation doesn't launch by 2025, the company knows one of its competitors will.

Space tourism is the future, he says, and the Gateway Foundation believe that future's imminent.

Sustainability in space

Given the design is still exactly that -- just a design -- there are some questions that remain unanswered about how the space hotel will function in actuality.

For example, it's been suggested that living in low gravity for an extended period of time is damaging to the human body. While vacationers will probably only visit the hotel for a few weeks, staff will plan to be there for six months to a year.

They'll adjust schedules as needed, says Alatorre, but right now, the foundation thinks this proposition would be "perfectly safe."

There's also the sustainability question, as people look for more eco-friendly vacations, surely going to space is not the solution?

Alatorre points to SpaceX's Raptor engine, which uses methane instead of petroleum-based fuel, suggesting "eco-friendly" rocket designs are the future.

He says recycling will be woven into the fabric of the space hotel.

"On the station itself, it's going to be about the most environmentally friendly vacation you'll ever have. Because we're recycling everything," says Alatorre.

"There's no amount of water or trash or waste that is going to be discarded, everything will be recycled, reused, stored, converted to some other form."

Terrestrial construction on the Gateway Foundation's project is set to begin October 1, 2019.