Space Adventures' suborbital plans hang in the balance

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Russia's Federal Space Agency has pulled out of the development of the five-person Explorer vehicle US space tourism company Space Adventures planned to use for its proposed suborbital service

The US space tourism company Space Adventures' suborbital plans are hanging in the balance a year after it announced deals with the Russian Federal Space Agency (FSA) and spaceport development in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In February 2006 Space Adventures announced its agreement with the FSA, US investment company Prodea and Russia's Myasishchev Design Bureau to develop the five person Explorer vehicle, to be air launched from its M-55X carrier aircraft.

However in the last year Space Adventures has made no more announcements while a feasibility study was conducted. This completed study is now with Space Adventures' management who are to make a decision in the "next couple of months" on whether to begin the second stage to develop a prototype test vehicle.

But the FSA has already decided to opt out of the venture. Speaking exclusively to Flight International Anatoly Perminov, head of the FSA said, "We are not involved in that project." The FSA's role was pivotal because it was to oversee Myasishchev's development of Explorer.

Space Adventures' head of Russian operations Sergei Kostenko says, "Suborbital is not government approved. We will have to get government approval to build Explorer but I think we could build a test vehicle without it".

Russian media reports claimed that Explorer test flights could start in 2009 and the vehicle would be a 10-person spacecraft but Kostenko denied that any decision on the number of seats had been taken. He also speculated that any decision by Space Adventures to develop and fly a prototype could require up to a year of legal procedures to gain Russian government approval.

Last October Anousheh Ansari, a director of Explorer's co-developer Prodea, rowed back from the February 2006 contract announcement and described her company's involvement as a feasibiity study only.