June 18, 2003 |

If you’re looking for the ultimate in get-up-and go, take note: Tourist-class seats will be available on a Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station in 2005.

This off-planet trek comes courtesy of a deal struck between Space Adventures, a U.S. adventure travel firm, Russia’s RSC Energia and the Russian Space Agency (Rosoviakosmos).

The agreement between the organizations to fly tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) was announced today during a press briefing at the Explorers Club in New York City.

A rocket trip for two

Eric Anderson, President and CEO of Space Adventures Ltd., headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, unveiled the space tourist trek, a cosmonaut-commanded Soyuz flight with open seating for two paying customers.

“Space tourism to the space station is back,” Anderson told in an exclusive interview. “It’s extremely important to get back on track with space tourism,” he said.

Tickets are available for $20 million per seat aboard the Space Adventures-1 (SA-1) mission. The mission will use a three-person Soyuz TMA spacecraft, the latest model of Russia’s long-running Soyuz line.

The new agreement is the first to include the option of sending two paying passengers at once, Anderson added during today’s briefing. “You can see the interest this could have in terms of fathers and sons, or brides and grooms.” Provisions in the space tourist deal also allow for separate launches, should they be necessary, Space Adventures officials said.

The target date for liftoff is sometime in early 2005, Anderson said today. Space Adventures has been negotiating with Russian space authorities over the last several months to hammer out contract details.

The next step

The agreement calls for a dedicated commercial flight to the ISS. This “extra mission” would fly two paying passengers that will have undergone months of training for the trip to the orbiting outpost. A typical trip could last up to 10 days in space, with tourists spending between six to eight of those days aboard the ISS.

Millionaire Dennis Tito, who became the first paying space tourist in April 2001, said he believed the new Space Adventures mission to be a logical continuation of space tourism, one that he hoped would eventually lead to somewhat affordable suborbital flights for non-millionaires.

“That would give regular people a slice of space travel for a few minutes at a time, hopefully at about the price of an SUV,” said Tito, who was onhand for the briefing.

Space Adventures assisted with and facilitated the flight of American Dennis Tito in April 2001 and South African Mark Shuttleworth in April 2002. Shuttleworth also spoke at the briefing via satellite.

Notifying NASA

Russian space agency officials have yet to bring the proposal to NASA or its other space station partners, according to NASA spokeswoman Debra Rahn.

Debra Rahn said that Space Adventures informed NASA that it has been working with Rosoviakosmos on a commercial flight proposal but was still waiting to hear from Rosoviakosmos itself.

“Rosoviakosmos has not formally notified NASA or the other international partners yet about this proposal,” Rahn said. “Until we receive more details about this specific proposal we really cannot make a judgement.”

However, Rahn said NASA does not anticipate that Rosoviakosmos would ask to fly a commercial mission to the space station while the shuttle remains grounded.

Anderson declined to speak on whether all of the international partners involved in the ISS were currently onboard for the space tourism mission.

He did say, however, that in the past year all ISS partners, including NASA, have agreed on the qualifications required for passengers hoping to buy a trip to the space station. Space Adventures passengers will be selected based on those criteria, and must have the appropriate financial support to meet the cost of the mission. Once the selection process is completed, there will be a chance for other ISS partners to conduct a review process, Anderson said.

Soyuz production line

Space Adventures has worked since August 1999 with Rosoviakosmos, RSC Energia, and the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center to develop private flights to the ISS.

Anderson said the Russian space agency and RSC Energia “have every desire to do more commercial missions because it helps them financially.” These type of flights assure that the Soyuz production line is well-funded and supported to the maximum extent possible, something of benefit to all concerned, including the ISS partner countries, he said. The $20-million cost per seat in the upcoming mission should cover the cost of the rocket, he added during the press briefing.

“It’s as much of a win-win as I can possibly imagine,” Anderson said. Terms of the actual contract — and amount of payment to the Russians for the Soyuz tourist run to the ISS — are confidential, he said.

Drumming up business

Anderson said that space tourism is the only market that can sustain the development of low-cost and safer space transportation systems in the future.

“There are 6 billion people on this planet. Even if only a very small percentage of them want to fly, that means hundreds of millions of dollars…if not billions of dollars per year,” Anderson said.

At present, Space Adventures has a roster of about 12 people wanting to slide into a Soyuz couch. These individuals are in various stages of being ready for orbital flight. The names of the candidate space travelers are to be announced in the next few months.

“I must say that I’m a little envious of whoever gets to go,” Shuttleworth said. “Once you’ve been in space it’s like an addiction, and you want to go back.”

Anderson said the new contract is more a prelude of things to come. The passenger-carrying Soyuz flight, he added, will surely drum up more business and prime the pump for a number of follow-on, tourist-class Soyuz flights in the future. In fact, provisions in the contract allow for the chance of more passenger flights, but are dependent on the success of the 2005 mission.

Space News Staff Writer Brian Berger contributed to this report.