A converted Russian intercontinental missile has successfully lofted a test satellite for what could become the world’s first orbiting hotel, bringing the era of space tourism a giant step closer.
Las Vegas hotel tycoon Robert Bigelow financed the launch of the former Soviet SS-18 rocket — now named Dnepr — which took off from the Yasni cosmodrome in the Ural Mountains on Thursday.
Aboard is an unmanned Genesis II orbiter built by Bigelow’s aerospace division, which is seen as a prototype for a future commercial space station that would include a hotel, recreational facilities, science labs and, perhaps, a casino.
The world’s first-ever private space station, which would be constructed of inflatable modules made from impact-resistant materials, is expected to be completed by 2015 at an estimated cost of $500 million.
The Genesis II, which is expected to orbit for several years, is already a money-earner. Paying participants sent personal items into space on Bigelow’s “Fly Your Stuff” programme; customers will later receive digital videos of these objects floating in orbit.