Two Russian companies have announced plans to build the first commercial space station, offering trips to private individuals as well as laboratory space for corporate researchers.
Orbital Technologies and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia say the Commercial Space Station (CSS) will be able to house up to seven people and could be in orbit as early as 2016.
It will be serviced by the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft - although it will also be compatible with other transportation systems, thanks to a unified docking system that will work with any commercial crew and cargo capability developed in the US, Europe and China.
"I am pleased to announce our intention to provide the global marketplace a commercially available orbital outpost. Once launched and operational, the CSS will provide a unique destination for commercial, state and private spaceflight exploration missions," said Orbital Technologies CEO Sergey Kostenko.
"The CSS will be a valuable addition to the global base of orbital assets. We look forward to working with corporate entities, state governments and private individuals from around the world."
Orbital Technologies says it has several customers already under contract from industry and the scientific community, representing such areas as medical research and protein crystallization, materials processing, and the geographic imaging and remote sensing industry.
"We also have proposals for the implementation of media projects. And, of course, some parties are interested in short duration stays on the station for enjoyment," added Kostenko.
The CSS could also serve as an emergency refuge for the ISS crew, should it become necessary.
"If a required maintenance procedure or a real emergency were to occur, without the return of the ISS crew to Earth, habitants could use the CSS as a safe haven," said Alexey Krasnov, head of the manned spaceflight department at the Federal Space Agency.
The CSS could also serve as a gateway to the rest of the solar system.
"A short stop-over at our station will be the perfect beginning of a manned circumlunar flight. Deep space manned exploration missions planned in the next decade are also welcome to use the CSS as a waypoint and a supply station," Kostenko said.