'Space hotel' plan unveiled in Russia
A Russian company has unveiled an ambitious plan to launch a "cosmic hotel" for wealthy space tourists.
Orbital Technologies says its "comfortable" four-room guest house could be in orbit by 2016, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reports.
Guests would be ferried to the hotel on a Soyuz shuttle of the type used to transport cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Moscow-based firm did not reveal how the hotel would be built or funded.
Up until now space tourists, such as American businessman Dennis Tito, have squeezed into the cramped ISS, alongside astronauts and their experiments.
The new hotel would offer greater comforts, according to Sergei Kostenko, chief executive of Orbital Technologies.
"Our planned module inside will not remind you of the ISS. A hotel should be comfortable inside, and it will be possible to look at the Earth through large portholes," he told RIA Novosti.
The hotel would be aimed at wealthy individuals and people working for private companies who want to do research in space, Mr Kostenko said.
It would follow the same orbit as the International Space Station.
The first module would have four cabins, designed for up to seven passengers, who would be packed into a space of 20 cubic metres (706 cubic feet).
Mr Kostenko did not reveal the price of staying in the hotel.
However he did say that food would be suited to individual preferences, and that organisers were thinking of employing celebrity chefs to cook the meals before they were sent into space.
It is not clear how the "cosmic hotel" would be built, but the company's website names Energia, Russia's state-controlled spacecraft manufacturer, as the project's general contractor.
Energia builds the Soyuz capsules and Progress cargo ships which deliver crew and supplies to the ISS.
Mr Kostenko said that "a number of agreements on partnership have already been signed" with Energia and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
The project has Russian and American investors willing to inject hundreds of millions of dollars, he added.
Alexey Krasnov, head of manned space missions at Roscosmos, told the Associated Press news agency the proposed hotel could provide a temporary haven for the crew of the ISS, in case of an emergency.
However, doubts about the project were raised by Jim Oberg, a Houston-based space consultant and expert on the Russian space program.
"Why Russia would spend the required funds is a compelling question that has significant implications for its future commitment to the ISS," he told AP.
This latest plan is not the first time a space hotel has been mooted.
In 2009 the Barcelona-based architects of The Galactic Suite Space Resort said their orbiting hotel was on target to accept its first paying guests by 2012.
In 2007, Genesis II, an experimental spacecraft designed to test the viability of a space hotel, was successfully sent into orbit by Bigelow Aerospace, a private company founded by an American hotel tycoon.