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    The MAKS 2011 airshow in Moscow last week provided that nation’s often opaque aerospace industry an opportunity, if ever so briefly, to emerge from the shadows and shine in the light of day. The annual event also gave us a bit of a peek into that nation’s commercial space efforts, which promise joy rides around the moon, a private space hotel, and a resumption of billionaut flights to the International Space Station.

    And yet, amid all the hype, there’s evidence that these ventures, like almost everything else in “NewSpace”, are continuing to slip into the future amid fresh worries that there is not enough money to accomplish all of them.The answer to that will have a major impact on the future of Energia, the Russian space company that is playing a key role in all three commercial ventures.

    The stakes are also high for Roscosmos. As space agency officials were networking at MAKS, yet another launch failure — the third in eight months — shone a harsh spotlight on the shortcomings of the Russian space agency, which like its American counterpart NASA, appears to be trying to accomplish too much with too little.

    Sound too gloomy? Well, maybe a little.  Let’s take a closer look.

    For those of you who are just tuning in, there are three main Russian commercial space projects:

      [li]Resumption of Soyuz space tourism flights to ISS[/li]
      [li]$150 million per person joyride around the moon on modified Soyuz[/li]
      [li]Commercial LEO space station.[/li]

    So, what’s going on with these projects? And when can we expect another million- or billionaut to soar off into the cosmos aboard a piece of Soviet-era hardware? Excellent questions. Let’s have at it.

    Space Adventures’ bold plan to send a pair of billionauts around the moon aboard a modified Soyuz seems to be largely on track. Back in May, company officials said that if they hoped to sign up a second paying passenger, at $150 million per seat, by the end of the year. If they were successful, then a flight could take place by late 2015, with a test flight preceding it by about a year.

    Last week, a Space Adventures official said the schedule could slip a bit. “Such a flight is feasible in 2016-2017,” said Sergei Kostenko, who heads up Space Adventures’ Russian office.

    The Virginia-based company has already sold one ticket for the lunar trip. A second paying passenger is required for work to begin on the project, which would take about four years to implement. The modified Soyuz vehicle would be attached to an upper stage/habitation module for the six-day trip around the moon.


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