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Space DividendThe Journal
The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan
October 2002 By Curt Hanson
(Exert from the Journal)
Space Island Group (SIG), a california-based company, has plans to put into orbit and then link a dozen or more of the space shuttle's expendable external fuel tanks (ETs) in a giant spinning wheel, forming a classic "2001: a Space Odyssey"- style space station, capable of holding hundreds of visitors in roomy cruise-ship comfort.
Presently after launch, the ETs are nudged back into the atmosphere and allowed to burn up in a wasteful $40 million dollar fireball. One hundred ETs have so far been destroyed, enough to have built six or more stations.
"We will use these stations as hotels and lease them out to hotel operators," says Gene Meyers, founder and president of SIG. "by 2009, 200 to 300 people a month will go to the station. The first 1,000 will be paying $1 million. By 2012, 100,000 people will go, paying $25,000." Kintetsu International, a major Japanese travel company has shown interest in the stations. Could a Club Med in space be far off?
"We will set some of them up as factories," Meyers says. "we actually think that the factories are going to generate more revenue. as far as leases go then tourism." Free-floating ETs will over microgravity manufacturing in space, an ideal enviroment for making exotic metal alloys, super efficient semiconductors, microelectro-mechanical systems and pharmaceuticals.
The concept of linking ETs was explored by NASA 25 years ago when they were developing the space shuttles. "We have taken this concept one step further. Rather then trying to capture the ETs when NASA releases them, our goal is to redesign the space shuttle, using private funds, to come up with a new vehicle that looks like the current space shuttles but will have a passenger compartment in the center where the cargo bay doors are now." explains Meyers.
SIG estimates it will take four years and several billion dollars to design the new space shuttles, with test flights in five years. However, the first stations could be orbiting within three to five years by leasing the Columbia to carry initial crews until its own shuttles are ready to fly. All this would be undertaken with as little involvement from NASA as possible.
"We are looking at Olympic-like corporate sponsorships, and marketing and licensing tie-ins with big companies," says Meyers in regards to how SIG envisions generating revenue from the start. "For example, an auto company may be interested in joining this effort and have bragging rights to say they are the most forward-thinking of all the auto companies." he also sees a scenario involving Sony Corp. "They could develop movies or TV shows in space." continues Meyers. "We can contract with Sony for exclusive rights to outfit the stations with their products and equipment.
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