US company sees ‘exciting’ moment as space tourism booms


MOSCOW: As competition in space tourism intensifies, one of the first companies to offer space travel to paying customers is making a comeback by putting itself in orbit with a Japanese billionaire.

US company Space Adventures and Russia are counting until December when they prepare to send Japanese online sales mogul Yusaku Maezawa to the International Space Station (ISS) amid a flurry of unprofessional launches.

“It’s a very exciting time for us,” Space Adventures President Tom Shelley in Moscow told AFP on Friday, calling this moment with the space tourism sector “very interesting”.

“There is a lot more awareness in the market,” said Shelley, 48.

This is the company’s first launch in more than a decade after travel to the ISS ceased when the US space agency Nasa purchased seats on flights operated by Russia and failed there was no other vehicle capable of making the trip.

Shelley’s business return to the industry with the Russian space agency was made possible after Elon Musk’s successful SpaceX flight last year that delivered astronauts to the ISS, making NASA less dependent on Russian spaceships.

Its launch with Maezawa comes after a series of other civilian trips.

Earlier this year, SpaceX sent the first fully civilian crew on a trip around Earth orbit, while Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted their first suborbital missions.

Russian agency Roscosmos sent an actress and film crew to the ISS earlier this month to shoot the first film in space.

Private spaceflight is “not just something that has been talked about as something for the future, but it’s happening now,” Shelley said.

But with the emergence of competition, he said the company “is now trying to innovate and find new offerings.”

One of these offers takes the form of a spacewalk.

The next Space Adventures flight to the ISS – scheduled for late 2023 or early 2024 – will give a passenger the option of a spacewalk.

Shelley said the company is in “advanced discussions” with potential customers.

Since its inception in 1998, Space Adventures has brought seven tourists to the ISS aboard the Soyuz spacecraft from Roscosmos.

The former was American entrepreneur Dennis Tito, who spent eight days on the ISS in 2001, and the latter was Canadian Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.

In early 2020, Space Adventures announced a partnership with SpaceX to send four people into Earth orbit, reaching an altitude above that of the ISS, but there have been few updates since.

“Ultimately, our reservation with SpaceX has expired and it’s not a mission we’re going to perform in the immediate future,” Shelley said, not ruling out future partnerships with the company.

Over the course of Space Adventures’ two-decade partnership with Russia, Moscow’s relationship with Washington has deteriorated over a number of issues.

But, said Shelley, space was an exception.

“Cooperation in space in particular seems to transcend somewhat the political difficulties that exist between the United States and Russia,” he said.

For Russia, space travelers are also a source of income, as its space industry has recently suffered funding cuts.

Space tourists pay “in the range of $ 50 million to $ 60 million” for a place on the Soyuz, Shelley said, without specifying the price of a spacewalk or how much of those fees go to Roscosmos.

Posted in Dawn, le 16 October 2021


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