Stars Could Flock to the Heavens For Astronomical Sets

Vancouver, New York City and Australia’s Gold Coast have all been touted as the next Hollywood. But the next big scene for movie locations might be straight up: space.

A new $100 million module on the International Space Station could be the first studio in space, and it has already put stars in the eyes of movie directors like James Cameron and music gurus like Lou Pearlman.

"Someone broadcasting from space would have a view of the world without borders," said Shelley A. Harrison, CEO of SPACEHAB Inc. "We could have the first broadcast of music from space … We could have TV programming or a motion picture."

The space studio is the latest moneymaking scheme by SPACEHAB, a Houston-based company that specializes in private ventures in orbit. It would be part of the company’s Enterprise, the commercial docking-and-stowage module that would replace one the Russians were supposed to make for the ISS.

The cash-strapped Russian Aviation and Space Agency simply couldn’t afford to fulfill its part of the ISS deal, so it negotiated the commercial substitute with SPACEHAB.

"It’s a natural evolution for us to build," Harrison said. "Also, obviously (the Russians) are short of capital and, for us, we’re doing an investment deal on something with business revenue."

SPACEHAB is now building the Enterprise in a suburb of Moscow in a partnership with the Russian commercial space corporation RSC Energia, which handled the flight of space tourist Dennis Tito. The Enterprise would be about 9 feet in diameter and 27 feet long, and link up to a Russian component of what Harrison called "the erector set of the space station."

Enterprise will also lease space on the base for the zero-gravity research of private corporations and for SPACEHAB’s educational programs.

The module’s potential cash cow, though, is the studio itself. It would be outfitted with filming equipment, including internal and external cameras specially built to withstand the rigors of space and weightlessness. Although he hasn’t yet determined how much SPACEHAB would charge companies for using the site, Harrison said representatives from nearly every major media company have contacted him.

"Some of the people asked if they could actually get up there and fly in space," he said. "I told them the price tag’s probably going to be pretty high for trips up there, but ask me again in ’03 and ’04."

He said that, among others, ‘N Sync guru Lou Pearlman is interested in broadcasting a video from his new band, Natural, via the Enterprise.

SPACEHAB hopes to staff the module with its own personnel in the future, but for now will subcontract with the cosmonauts, ironically making the Russians space’s first capitalists. The module is scheduled to launch from a Russian rocket in late 2003 or early 2004.

The module has received RASA’s OK, but still has to be approved by the International Space Station Partnership, which also includes representatives from NASA, the Canadian, European and Japanese space programs. A NASA expert is currently reviewing the proposal, spokeswoman Kirsten Larson said.

It would be the first privately built, privately run and privately owned real estate in space.

Larson said she was not aware of any NASA objections to having a commercial module attached to the space station, as long as it’s spaceworthy.

Harrison sees no reason why NASA should have a problem with it.

"The space program hasn’t been available to the average person on the street," he said. "We’ve focused only on the most spectacular events. But we want to know what we’re doing up there, what it’s like for a human being, the human-interest stories."