Mystery Investor Funds Massive Russian Space Tourism Vehicle

Russia-InfoCentre has a brief update on Myasishchev Experimental Machine Building Plant’s planned 16-passenger suborbital tourism vehicle.

“Researchers plan to demonstrate ready and tested vehicle in 2011-2012. Russian experimental machine-building plant signed the contract with the Russian investor, who prefers to be anonymous. The contract provides funding for development of M-91 aviation and space system – six months of preliminary engineering and couple of years for all necessary tests.”

The 27-metric ton M-91 vehicle would be flown atop a Myasishchev VM-T Atlant aircraft to a high altitude. The space plane would then separate and use its on-board propulsion system to fly to an altitude of 100 kilometers, where passengers would enjoy a period of zero gravity.

The VM-T Atlant was a Soviet aircraft built in 1981. It ferried Energia rocket boosters from their production facilities to the Baikonaur Cosmodrome. It also carried the Soviet space shuttle Buran.

Wikipedia reports that only two aircraft were built; they were retired in 1989 and replaced by Antonov’s An-225 Mriya. “At least one Atlant remains at the Zhukovskiy airfield in Russia owned by TsAGI and Gromov Flight Research Institute. The other can be seen on Google Earth’s hi-res image of Dyagilevo Airbase, Ryazan oblast,” according to Wikipedia.

The M-91 would be larger than any other space tourism vehicle known to be under development. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will carry six tourists on suborbital flights.

Myasishchev has a description of the program on its website.