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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Designers Unveil Reusable Spaceship

ZHUKOVSKY, Moscow region -- A top Russian aerospace company Thursday presented a mock-up of a reusable ship for space tourists ready to pay $100,000 to spend three minutes in zero gravity on a suborbital flight and said 100 candidates have already signed up.

The three-seat S-XXI ship accommodates a pilot and two passengers and relies on technologies developed for the Soviet Buran space shuttle, which made a flawless unmanned maiden flight in 1988 before being scrapped for lack of funds.

"Our firm has developed the Buran and put its technology into this project," said Valery Novikov, head designer at the Myasishchev Design Bureau, which is developing the suborbital ship on order from a private Russian company called Suborbital Corp.

Suborbital Corp. is working in close cooperation with Space Adventures, a U.S. company that helped the world's first space tourist Dennis Tito broker his flight to the international space station atop a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Tito reportedly paid Rosaviakosmos, the Russian space agency, $20 million for an eight-day trip to space last year, and the next space tourist, South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth, is scheduled to head to the international space station in April.

Space Adventures president Eric Anderson said that about 100 people already have booked seats on a future suborbital ship that is expected to become operational in three years.

"After today we'll have twice as many clients," Anderson added cheerfully.

The S-XXI will be mounted on top of the M-55 carrier aircraft that will take it to an altitude of 17,000 meters. After the ship is released from the carrier, its own solid-fuel rocket engine will propel it to an altitude of just over 100 kilometers, after which the S-XXI will slide back into the atmosphere and land at a regular airfield like a conventional plane. The entire mission from takeoff to landing will take about one hour.

The ship's mock-up was presented at an air base in Zhukovsky near Moscow that has served as Russia's top flight test center for many decades.

Suborbital Corp. chief Sergei Kostenko said it would cost $10 million to build and test the S-XXI, while the entire program, which envisages acquiring two carrier aircraft and seven suborbital ships, will cost approximately $60 million.

Kostenko said the project is financed by Western investors, whom he refused to name.

Many companies in different countries have drawn up plans for building a suborbital ship for space tourists, but the Myasishchev Design Bureau's experience in designing Buran places it far ahead of others, planners said.

They insist the brief flight will be worth the hefty price.

"A passenger will experience weightlessness and enjoy the view of the Earth from space," Novikov said. "It will be a grandiose experience."