Russian Soyuz rocket launchSome things have not changed since the end of the Cold War. Russia is still making the mistake of believing its own propaganda.

A new article by Alexei Lyakhov and Artyom Kobzev proclaims, “Russia Has No Rivals in Space Tourism.” The article was published by the Voice of Russia, the international radio service of the All Russia State Radio and Television company.

Lyakov and Kobzev point with pride to the current Soyuz monopoly. “Although almost all space tourists have so far been U.S. citizens, the USA sends nobody to outer space on a commercial basis.”

Among the seven citizen space explorers who’ve visited ISS, there are five Americans, one Canadian, and one South African. One of the Americans is Anousheh Ansari, who is Iranian by birth. Americans are currently largest group (71% by citizenship, or 57% by birth), but it does not seem fair to say that “almost all” are Americans.

Of course, that’s based on a very small sample size. Projecting future nationalities from such a small sample size would be foolish. Even more foolish is projecting the future of the human spaceflight industry from current providers.

In over 50 years, fewer than 600 people have flown in space. Not even a baker’s dozen per year. If companies like XCOR Aerospace and Virgin Galactic are successful, those numbers could quickly grow to more than 600 in a single year.

Yet, Russian space experts dismiss these developments. The article quotes Academician Alexander Zheleznyahov:

The point is that many companies that appeared on that market recently include suborbital flights in their services while Roscosmos is the only agency that can offer an orbital flight. These two are different things. A suborbital flight is actually a jump into space. Those who will be on board a spacecraft will experience zero gravity for 5 to 8 minutes, not more.

This resembles the condescending remarks that executives from companies like IBM, DEC, and CDC made about the first microcomputers. Zheleznyahov overlooks the value of affordability and flight rate. Strangely, it was a Russian who said, “Quantity is a quality all its own.”

The article goes on to state, “Experts are sure that to talk about turning space tourism into a full-value industry is somewhat premature at the moment. And what matters here is readiness to run risks, not money as such, Head of the Institute of Space Policy Ivan Moiseyev said.”

We have no idea what the latter statement even means. Heading the Institute of Space Policy is surely a paid position, so Moiseyev must know that money matters. If running risks were the only thing that mattered, he would resign his post and become an amateur cliff diver.

Money clearly matters to the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscomos), which has increased the price it charges NASA for Soyuz flights to $75 million per astronaut (up from just $35 million a few years ago). The Russian government is clearly taking advantage of its current monopoly, maximizing its short-term profits rather than taking the risk of developing new systems. Meanwhile, SpaceX expects to fly astronauts to ISS for around $10 million per seat, once it gets the go-ahead from NASA and Congress.

The real breakthrough, however, will be the suborbital vehicles which reduce the cost of traveling into space to $100,000 or less, which will change access to space the way microcomputers changed computing. Comes the revolution, Comrades!

Written by Astro1 on May 7th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

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COMMENTS
    Michael Waddell commented

    Do we know if the Russians are actually innovating in the private sector? They can say whatever they want as long as they deliver more competition. The more competition the better, or so says the 60’s.

    Reply
    May 7, 2013 at 12:59 pm
    Paul commented

    What a nonsense article.

    Currently the Russians *are* the only ones capable of sending tourists into space. The go-ahead from NASA to SpaceX is still a couple of years away.

    100.000 or less, that’s even decades away, if it works at all.

    Reply
    May 7, 2013 at 1:16 pm
      Michael Waddell commented

      No need to be rude dude.

      And I think you’re timeline might be a little longer than reality, as far as SpaceX manned flights. The 100,000 price tag timing all depends on how much innovation accelerates as a result of competition in the private sector. I could see that easily happening in the next decade if things keep going the way they are going.

      Reply
      May 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm
        Michael Waddell commented

        *your*

        Reply
        May 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm
        Paul commented

        Sorry, did not intend to be rude 🙁

        About my timeline, you can read at http://www.spacex.com/updates.php that they do not expect NASA approval for manned flight before 2015.

        I sure hope the 100.000 price tag for real space flights happens within ten years, but I’m afraid those flights will only get you halfway to the space station.

        Reply
        May 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm
          admin commented

          Ultimately irrelevant. ISS is a sideshow.

          Reply
          May 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm
            Michael Waddell commented

            AS far as proof of concept is involved, I think a private company getting into space under a $100k price tag is enormously valuable, even if it’s only “halfway to the ISS”.

            May 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm
      admin commented

      SpaceX is not the only company out there. XCOR is selling flights to space for under $100,000 right now.

      Reply
      May 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm
        Paul commented

        Yes, and mars-one.com is less expensive and gets you all the way to Mars…

        Like I said, I really hope XCOR (and Mars One) can make this happen (the flights, not the selling), but I have my doubts.

        My bet is on the Chinese 😉

        Reply
        May 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm