Space Adventures suborbital space tourism vehicle Explorer faces 100-plus test flights, may practice water landings

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By Rob Coppinger in London

Space Adventures says its suborbital vehicle Explorer will be flight-tested over 100 times, could require emergency water-landing practice and is to operate initially from Russia’s Zhukovsky air base. Zhukovsky, near Moscow, is likely to be the development centre for Explorer, which will be air-launched from a Myasishchev M-55X aircraft.

The air base has Europe’s longest runway, at 5,400m (17,820ft), and a government-controlled flight test zone of 40,000km2 (15,000 sq. miles). Russia’s Gromov Flight Research Institute is also based at Zhukovsky. Explorer is being designed by the Myasishchev Design Bureau and funded by Space Adventures and its investment partner, Prodea. Russia’s Federal Space Agency (FSA) is overseeing the development process. “We’re going to be north of 100 flights before we carry customers. No-one builds better rockets than the Russians. First we’ll operate in Russia, then Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, and then Singapore or the USA,” says Space Adventures’ orbital spaceflight vice-president Christopher Faranetta.

Faranetta declines to confirm how the Explorer will be powered, but when Myasishchev previously offered the vehicle to Virgin Galactic it used a solid rocket. The company has had informal talks with the New Mexico state government, which is developing its Southwest Regional spaceport. It has also announced development deals for spaceports in Singapore and the UAE.

Because of suborbital flight profiles and Singapore’s island status, Faranetta says Space Adventures may have to practise emergency water landings.