Russia to test space-tourist craft

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PAUL DUFFY / MOSCOW

 

The Russian air and space agency (RAKA) is developing a shuttle vehicle designed for the space-tourist market. The S-21, a prototype of which has been developed by the Myasishchev experimental design Bureau, will cater for sub-orbital rides into space. The development follows the emergence of space tourism, with the first trip made to the International Space Station last April by US businessman Dennis Tito on a Russian Soyuz TM. The next space tourist, Mark Shuttleworth, is to fly on a Soyuz next month, while a third is lined up for a flight later this year.

The S-21 will be carried by a Myasishchev M-55 high-altitude research aircraft for deployment at a height of 72,200ft (22,000m). It will carry two passengers and a pilot on a sub-orbital ballistic flight to an altitude of around 100km (60 miles). The first flight is expected in about 18 months, with the first "revenue" flight a year later.

Myasishchev general designer Valeri Novikov says the M-55/S-21 is a new direction for the bureau, although it developed the Soviet space shuttle Buran, launched in 1976 in response to the US Space Shuttle programme. The S-21, measuring 5.5m by 7.7m and 2m high, uses much of the Buran's design and technology. The first full-scale Buran rolled out in 1984, but made only one unmanned orbital flight in 1988. The project was mothballed in the early 1990s due to funding constraints.