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Charles Simonyi
Space Adventures facilitated two trips to the International Space Station for Seattle-area billionaire Charles Simonyi, in 2007 and 2009. (NASA Photo via Space Adventures)

Russia’s space agency says it’s getting ready to resume sending private passengers to the International Space Station and back, a decade after the last space tour.

A contract has been signed with Virginia-based Space Adventures to send two non-professional spacefliers into orbit for short-term space station stays by the end of 2021, Roscosmos reported today in a news release.

Space Adventures didn’t issue a statement but retweeted Roscosmos’ news.

Roscosmos said the two passengers would fly on a Soyuz spacecraft that’s currently being built, presumably with a professional Russian cosmonaut in the pilot’s seat. “The execution of all works on the creation of space technology will be carried out at the expense of the space tourists,” Roscosmos said.

The most recent space passenger was Guy LaLiberte, the Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil, who went on a 10-day trip to the space station back in 2009 and earned the title of “first clown in space” by virtue of his trademark fake red nose.

At that time, the price of the tour was said to be in the neighborhood of $35 million. The figure has risen steadily since then: Most recently, Russia has been charging NASA in excess of $80 million per seat.

Space Adventures made the arrangements with Roscosmos for LaLiberte’s trip, and for trips taken by six other self-paying spaceflight participants. Seattle-area billionaire Charles Simonyi went to the station twice, in 2007 and 2009.

The retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet in 2011 tightened up the market for Soyuz seats. Virtually all of the seats were required to support regular crew rotations on the station.

When British-born soprano Sarah Brightman made arrangements with Space Adventures to go into space in 2015, the reported price was $53 million. Brightman didn’t end up paying anywhere close to that amount, however. Although she went through cosmonaut training in Russia, she put the space trip on hold, reportedly due to personal family issues.

The resumption of commercial Soyuz space trips is related to the expected start of flights to and from the space station on space taxis that are being developed for NASA by SpaceX and Boeing. If all proceeds according to plan, astronauts should start flying on SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft later this year. Those trips should free up seats on Soyuz spacecraft, leaving the Russians with something to sell to private passengers.

Eventually, open seats on Dragon and Starliner spacecraft could be sold to customers as well, perhaps through Space Adventures.

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