Inside Orbital Assembly's Ambitious Quest to Use Robots to Build Space Hotels

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Orbital Assembly
Orbital Assembly Corp

Vacationing in space?

With intercelestial travel fast approaching for people who can afford it, Fontana-based Orbital Assembly Corp. is already plotting out a hospitality industry.


Orbital is working on autonomous robots that can build luxury hotels in space and could eventually create a floating interstellar cruise ship.

Orbital Assembly CEO Rhonda Stevenson said that while the idea might seem far-fetched, proving that the technology works on the ground is the first step to convincing people to use it in outer space.

The company wants to "create large space structures that simulate gravity" and serve multiple uses -- residences, hotels, business centers and bars, she said in an email.

Already, the space tourism industry is taking off. SpaceX recently announced it'd sell four tickets to launch private citizens into space as early as 2021 -- and Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said he'd fly into orbit himself as soon as this July.

Orbital hopes that by 2027 it can erect an operational space hotel atop a vessel that can spin fast enough to maintain gravity inside.

Photo courtesy Orbital Assembly Corp

The structure was originally conceived as the Von Braun Space Station, after Nazi rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun. A company spokesperson said they changed the name to the Voyager Station for "obvious reasons."

"I hate to compare us to Elon Musk, because I see him as a once-in-a-generation type of figure, if that," said Tim Alatorre, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. "But what he did is he saw a problem that nobody was solving, and so, that's what Orbital Assembly is doing. I think we see a problem that nobody's solving. We don't have low-gravity stations in orbit, we don't have the ability to build large structures economically and easily in orbit."

"There's no engineering reason for that. It's just a matter of will, and getting all the business and the commerce components in place to make it happen," Alatorre added.

Alatorre also added that having a robot build equipment in space could be far safer than asking humans to do spacewalks.

"In order to get humanity into space, we need to be able to build things more economically," Alatorre said. "The International Space Station was put together primarily by astronauts in spacesuits going out into the vacuum of space manually and that's just not cost effective. But it's also a danger we think about; it's incredibly dangerous and you have to have a lot of training."

Orbital Assembly isn't the first company to come up with the idea of a hotel beyond the stars. Almost as soon as human spacefaring began in 1961, people have floated the idea of living, working and chilling in outer space. It's only been recently, as SpaceX, Blue Origin and other private space companies have made strides towards private space travel that these projects have become more focused.

The construction system Orbital Assembly calls the DSTAR robot (short for demonstrator structural truss assembly robot) is the company's first attempt at proving its automatic builders work.

Orbital is conducting a June 19 demo of the technology where it will assemble a truss the size of a football field at its Fontana warehouse. After the event the company will post videos of the robots in action.

Photo courtesy Orbital Assembly Corp

Alatorre also said he hopes the demo technology will be recyclable or something Orbital Assembly can resell.

"We've had [it] in pieces in storage throughout Southern California, and we haven't had a space large enough to be able to assemble it," Alatorre said. "Since we've announced this, we actually have a number of different potential clients who are interested in using this truss-building technology for other purposes as well; So even though it's a demonstrator, we're hopeful that we'll be able to repurpose it and use it for some other clients."

After the technology is operational, the next step is launching the DSTAR into low-Earth orbit by 2023.

There's a myriad of challenges that Orbital Assembly could face -- and is anticipating -- on its way to building an abode in the stars. Firstly, there's the money: Stevenson said the company needs to raise $200 million to fund its mission in 2023.

So far, Orbital Assembly has raised just $1 million since it launched in 2019 from investors through an equity crowdfunding effort led by Net Capital.

Funding issues have plagued other skyward-looking startups before: a Houston, Texas-based company called Orion Span was hyped up to launch a space hotel project by this year, but closed shop before it took off. The company was forced to refund the $80,000 fee it charged customers to pre-order a ride to their space hotel.

Alatorre said the first two parts of the Voyager station could be "at max about $2 billion." He added that in total, "our current estimates for Voyager station are less than $8.6 billion" and added, "keeping in mind that the station is significantly larger than most."

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
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In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

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Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

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Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

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Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

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Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

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Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

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A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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