Russia Prepares for 2009 Space Tourist Flight, Future Spacecraft
A Russian-built soyuz rocket launches two Expedition 15 cosmonauts and U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on April 7, 2007.
Credit: RSC Energia.

MOSCOW -- Russia's Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov said Friday that a prominent Russian businessman-turned-politician is training to fly to space as a tourist in 2009 and underscored the need to cut his country's dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for manned space exploration.

"If we create a new manned spaceship, which our program until the year 2015 provides for, then we will need a new rocket and that rocket will require a new launch pad," Perminov told reporters in a press conference here. We have not decided whether to build that pad at Baikonur or in Russia."

While Perminov didn't name the new spaceship, the Russian space agency has envisioned the Rocket Space Corporation Energia's Klipper spacecraft for use as a replacement for the Soyuz-TMA capsules and interplanetary voyages.

Should Russia decide to launch the new ship from its territory, it would have to build an entire new cosmodrome -- or spaceport -- from scratch, Perminov said. None of Russia's own cosmodromes, including Plesetsk in northern Russia, or the little-used Svobodny and Kapustin Yar pads located in the far east and south respectively, meet requirements for the new ship, he added.

Perminov didn't elaborate on what these requirements are, but it is known that all of Russia's existing launch pad are inferior to Baikonur when it comes to minimizing amount of fuel needed to launch ships to orbits where space stations operate. Perminov vowed that Russia will continue to lease Baikonur, from which it carries out the bulk of its launches, regardless of whether it builds a new cosmodrome or not.

Kazakhstan agreed in 2004 to extend Russia's lease on the Baikonur Cosmodrome until 2050. Then Russian president Boris Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev signed an agreement in 1994, in accordance to which, Russia was to pay the annual sum of $115 million for renting Baikonur for 20 years. "These are delirious ideas," Perminov said when asked if Russia could leave Baikonur.

Space tourist in 2009

Perminov also said his agency may launch to space the first ever Russian space tourist even before the new manned spaceship becomes operational. The official said one "serious" candidate is already undergoing medical tests to determine whether he is fit to fly in 2009, but declined to name him.

"He has personally asked me not to name him. All I can say so far is that he is a serious, respect person who is a businessman and politician," Perminov said.?

He would only add that the candidate is a young man. A former Federal Space Agency official familiar with the issue said the candidate is "most probably" a member of State Duma, lower chamber of the federal parliament.

The former official - who was involved in negotiations with previous space tourists, said in an Aug. 31 interview that the candidate has neither paid any down payment nor completed medical tests. "Therefore, he cannot be for now considered to be a serious candidate," said the former official, who asked not to be named.??

Only two Russians have in the past offered to pay money to fly to space as tourists -- head of the construction company Mirax Group Sergei Polonsky and then-mayor of Volgograd Yevgeny Ishchenko -- but neither agreed to pay the full price of $20 million or more, the official said. Ishchenko was forced to step down from his post amid accusations of corruption and he was subsequently convicted of "illegal entrepreneurship" earlier this year.

To date, Russia's Federal Space Agency has launched five space tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Soyuz rockets and spacecraft under agreements brokered by the U.S. space tourism firm Space Adventures. Four were U.S. citizens and one was from South Africa.

Prices for the orbital trips increased from $20 million-to-$25 million to no less than $30 million earlier this year.

Perminov also said he has not had discussions with president Vladimir Putin, whose term expires next year, on whether he may want to fly to space. "I think the president has places to fly to and things to do," Perminov said when commenting on wishes to see Putin aboard the ISS recently expressed by commander of this station's current crew Fyodor Yurchikhin.

Deputy head of the Federal Space Agency Aleksei Krasnov told reporters earlier that a number of rich Russians have inquired about possibility of flying to space as tourists, but he also did not name those interested.

Calls to Sergei Kostenko, head of Space Adventures' Moscow office, were not returned Friday.

Future exploration

Perminov said Russia is considering whether to propose to its ISS partners to extend the lifespan of the international scientific outpost from its 2015 designed end date to 2020. By then, he said, Russia should be able to launch a next-generation space station while also preparing for inter-planetary manned missions.

When discussing longer-term manned space exploration, Perminov said his agency plans to send cosmonauts to the moon by 2025, and then set up a manned outpost there in 2028-2032.

Interestingly, one of the reasons that Perminov sought the removal of Energia's previous chief Nikolai Sevastyanov in July outlandish vows to carry out interplanetary manned missions, such as flights to Mars, and other unrealistic projects, according to some Federal Space Agency and Energia officials. During Friday's press conference, Perminov attacked one of Sevastyanov's ideas - the proposal to mine helium isotopes on the Moon, saying it is "misleading" and cannot be implemented in the next 30 years.

He also said Russia will not try to launch men to Mars at least until 2035.

In his comments on unmanned space exploration, Perminov said he expects the number of Russian operational satellites to total 102 or 103 by the end of this year. He also said Russia is considering whether to cooperate with Indonesia for launches of small satellites by rockets to be fired from An-124 planes rather than from ground.

He also said Russia is touting the idea of developing Earth observation and telecommunications satellites jointly with a number of Arab countries, noting that Russian rockets have already launched six Saudi Arabian satellites.

Launches of foreign satellites and other commercial services are expected to generate $800 million in sales for the national space and rocket industry in 2008, Perminov said.

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