The Russian Federal Space Agency began looking into space tourism soon after its formation in 1992, as Russia’s economic problems saw budgets for space exploration slashed. A partnership with Space Adventures has seen nine tourist astronauts fly to the International Space Station since Dennis Tito’s visit in 2001, although the programme is currently on hold until more seats aboard Soyuz become available in 2013.
Tourists visits to the International Space Station have been strongly opposed by NASA from the beginning, but the agency has been forced to allow them in the face of America’s reliance on Russian space transport.
A Soyuz rocket takes off from Baikonur
Roscosmos’s manned vehicle is the ultra-reliable Soyuz capsule/rocket combination, which has flown dozens of successful missions since 1967. The basic configuration has remained unchanged for more than 40 years, featuring a small aerodynamic re-entry module for launch and return to Earth, a spherical orbital module where the crew spends most of their time, and a cylindrical service module which contains the engines, solar panels and life support for up to 30 days in orbit under its own power.
The current model, TMA-M, is the largest Soyuz to date and debuted on October 7, 2010. Following NASA requests, it can accommodate taller, heavier passengers, and also features ‘glass cockpit’ digital displays, improved parachutes and docking equipment, and can remain at the International Space Station for up to a year, compared to the six-month orbital lifetime of previous models.
A Soyuz-TMA craft in orbit: the orbital and service modules are at either end with the re-entry module in the centre
The Soyuz capsule is launched by the Soyuz rocket, described by the European Space Agency as the most reliable rocket ever flown. The latest version, Soyuz-FG, has made 23 successful launches with no failures since it was introduced in 2001, delivering satellites into orbit as well as cargo and crew to the ISS.
Soyuz’s great reliability comes at a cost: it’s completely expendable and very expensive, with each seat costing tourists or foreign space agencies $20million. Russia has no plans to build a reusable launch vehicle, but has embarked on design studies for a six-man Soyuz-style vehicle which could be partially-reusable, and a new launcher rocket.
A Soyuz re-entry capsule parachutes down to the steppes of Kazakhstan
All images Roscosmos and NASA