The Suborbital Corporation, a Russian space company, has developed a reusable ship for space tourists who can pay $100,000 to spend three minutes in zero gravity on a suborbital flight. This may seem like a lot, but it?s much less than the $20 million that the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, paid. Suborbital is working with the U.S. company Space Adventures. The ship is expected to become operational in three years and 100 candidates have already signed up.

The three-seat S-XXI ship has room for a pilot and two passengers and relies on technologies developed for the Soviet Buran space shuttle, which made a flawless unmanned flight in 1988 before the project was dropped for lack of funds.

?Our firm has developed the Buran and put its technology into this project,? says Valery Novikov, head designer at the Myasishchev Design Bureau, which is developing the ship for Suborbital.

The S-XXI will be mounted on top of a M-55 carrier aircraft that will take it to an altitude of 56,100 feet. After the ship is released from the carrier, its own solid-fuel rocket engine will propel it to an altitude of just over 60 miles, 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.

Suborbital Corporation chief Sergei Kostenko says it will cost $10 million to build and test the S-XXI. The entire program, which consists of two carrier aircraft and seven suborbital ships, will cost approximately $60 million. Kostenko says the project is financed by Western investors who want their identities kept secret.

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

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