Last February Space Adventures made a big push to develop a suborbital spacecraft that would compete with Virgin Galactic, Rocketplane, and others in the suborbital space tourism arena. The Explorer vehicle would be based on a vehicle designed by Myasishchev Design Bureau in Russia to compete for the Ansari X Prize; the Russian space agency Roskosmos would be involved as well as Prodea, the company founded by Amir, Anousheh, and Hamir Ansari. Around the same time as this announcement Space Adventures also announced that it was involved in spaceport development efforts in the UAE and Singapore. Those announcements, along with Space Adventures’ track record in orbital space tourism, immediately put the company among the leading contenders to develop a successful suborbital space tourism business.
Since those announcements, though, there has been virtually no news about the effort coming out of Space Adventures and its partners. In an article published online on Friday, Flight International reports that those plans “hang in the balance”, following the completion of a feasibility study that had been in the works for months. Space Adventures will make a decision to proceed or not in the next couple of months, according to the article, but Roskosmos has already indicated that they are no longer involved with the effort.
My own angle on this: I spoke very briefly with Anousheh Ansari about this when she attended the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference last month. Her keynote address focused completely on her trip to the ISS, with no mention of any suborbital plans, so I asked her about it during one of the breaks. (To her credit, she didn’t leave after giving her speech, but in fact stayed the entire day, and could be seen leafing through some of the reports distributed at the conference during the sessions.) She said that the feasibility studies were ongoing, and that Prodea had not made a decision whether and how to proceed, nor did she give a timetable for any decisionmaking.
Space Adventures has a very strong brand in the space tourism field because of their work getting various clients to the ISS, so it would seem natural that they would also get involved in the suborbital field as well. It remains to be seen, though, whether they have the ability and interest in continuing with the development of a new vehicle, instead of perhaps partnering with one or more of the existing suborbital players (as they had previously indicated), helping shape the customer experience, selling tickets, and getting a cut of the revenues.