MOSCOW, Aug. 31 — Russia's NPO Molniya design bureau and the Myasischev Experimental Factory (EMZ) are designing a space-plane for sub-orbital "space tourism" and small satellite launch flights, according to a company specialists' report seen by RIA Novosti.
The sub-orbital craft will be launched from a subsonic carrier aircraft such as the existing high-altitude Myasischev M-55 Geofizika or 3M-T transport aircraft. The 3-MT, a derivative of the Myasischev M-4 bomber which first flew in the 1950's, was used in the Buran space shuttle program in the 1980's to carry the orbiter as well as the Energiya carrier rocket.
The winged space-plane will take off from the launch aircraft and climb at 1,000-1,200 meters a second to 105-120 km altitude – at the edge of space – under power of a solid-fuel rocket motor.
"Space tourists will experience weightlessness for three to five minutes and can see the surface of the earth through portholes. After entry into the dense layers of the atmosphere, the spaceplane will make a landing on an aerodrome," the document says.
The number of passengers carried will be from four to 14, dependent on the type of carrier aircraft, the document says.
The companies are also designing a variant of the air-launch system for placing small satellites in low-earch orbit, with a satellite and booster carried in the spaceplane's passenger compartment.
No information was available as to whether either project has funding to place it in production.
Richard Branson's The Spaceship Company is already preparing to start operating a similar space tourism project in the United States, using aircraft and spaceplanes built by U.S. company Scaled Composites.
NPO Molniya is one of Russia's largest spacecraft production enterprises, and was involved in the Buran space shuttle program in the Soviet era. It was previously involved in guided weapons projects, and also designed the then-secret Spiral spaceplane project in the early 1970's.
Myasischev built the 3-MT and M-55 aircraft and now works on aircraft design programs. (PNA/RIA Novosti)