How do you make research in space less expensive? Why not build a space station where half of the structure functions as a luxury hotel–and the other half belongs to NASA’s astronauts?
That’s the idea behind the Managed, Reconfigurable, In-space Nodal Assembly (or MARINA, for short), a conceptual design from five MIT graduate students that recently won the graduate division of NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts design competition. Acting as a tenant of the space hotel concept would cost NASA about $360 million annually–drastically less than what it costs to operate the International Space Station. It would save 16% of NASA’s overall budget–about $3 billion per year.
According to Matt Moraguez, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics who led the proposal, MARINA has a modular design, with standardized interfaces that could connect any single point on the structure to any other. This standardization would allow other companies to create products and services for people living on MARINA–and create more possibilities for monetizing valuable space. Modularity would also enable the structure to transform into a vehicle for transporting people to Mars.
“MARINA’s flagship anchor tenant, a luxury Earth-facing eight-room space hotel complete with bar, restaurant, and gym, will make orbital space holidays a reality,” said the MIT postdoc Valentina Sumini, who contributed to the project, in a statement.
The idea depends on the fact that people really want to hang out in space. Though the team didn’t provide any estimate of how much it would cost to stay in their fantasy space hotel, SpaceX–a leading entrant into the space tourism industry–told Space.com that a seat aboard its commercial trip around the Moon would cost more than the $80 million that NASA typically spends per seat on its missions.
Of course, MARINA is still a bit of a pipe dream. But even if the dream of a space hotel that could offset the cost of important research seems improbable, designs like these help us to imagine what might one day be possible.