Russian Explorer vehicle awaits US cash decision

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Prodea pins investment in suborbital launcher development on feasibility study

US company Prodea's investment in the proposed Russian-designed Explorer suborbital tourism vehicle is not confirmed and a final decision on development is not expected until next year.

Prodea chairman and co-founder Anousheh Ansari says the company is only funding a feasibility study that will continue for several months.

Proposed by Russia's Myasishchev design bureau, the five-seat Explorer would be air-launched from the back of an M-55X carrier aircraft and rocket-boosted on a ballistic trajectory to at least 100km (62 miles) altitude before gliding back to Earth.

In February, US space tourism company Space Adventures announced an agreement with Prodea to develop a fleet of vehicles it claimed would provide the first commercial human suborbital flight service. "We are still in a feasibility study plan of the Explorer vehicle. There is no timetable it should be done in the next few months," says Ansari. "We are also looking at alternative spaceports outside of Russia and other partnerships to develop the suborbital spaceflight industry."

Space Adventures' spaceports have been proposed in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Competitor Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, will unveil its space tourism launch system - the Scaled Composites-developed SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle and its White Knight 2 carrier aircraft - in the third quarter of next year.