The end of space tourism is near (again)

The commercial space community was atwitter (figuratively and literally) over a Russian news report that Russia planned to end taking space tourists to the ISS after this March’s return trip by Charles Simonyi. The implication was that there wouldn’t again be any other means of visiting the ISS.

However, this report is hardly the breaking news some made it out to be. Almost a year ago Flight International reported that Russia wasn’t planning to offer additional flights after this spring as it geared up for supporting six-person crews on the station. Yesterday’s statement by Roskosmos director Anatoly Perminov is consistent with this.

What’s changed since then, though, was the announcement last June that Space Adventures had arranged with Roskosmos a dedicated Soyuz flight to the ISS in 2011 that would carry two passengers, one of whom is likely to be Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Does Perminov’s statement yesterday mean that this deal is off? There’s been no comment on this statement by Space Adventures, but even back in June there was conflicting statements from Roskosmos officials about the mission. When I talked with Space Adventures’ Eric Anderson after that statement, he said the confusion resulted in part because there had been no formal notification that Brin would be flying to the station (since no firm commitments had been made yet).

Another factor to take into account is that statements like Perminov’s have a political dimension as well, particularly within Russia. A statement like Perminov’s can show that Russia’s space program is strong enough not to have to rely on income from foreign space tourists, and/or press for more financial support from the Russian government. It certainly doesn’t mean that the airlock is sealed permanently for commercial visitors to the ISS.

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