Space: July 28, 2002


Russia will start developing the design concept for the S-21 suborbital craft in September 2002. A model was show to the press in late January 2002. Wind-tunnel testing of the S-21 mock-up will begin in September or October, using the wind tunnel of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute. Sergei Kostenko, chairman of the Suborbitalnaya Korporatsya company, told Interfax-Military News Agency on 22 July that the first craft will be built by Myasishchev state-owned experimental machine-building plant in late 2004 or early 2005.

The M-55Kh carrier plane forms the core of the system, with a take-off weight of 27 tons and speed of up to 800 kilometers per hour. The 3.5 ton, 7.7 meter-long and 5.6 meter-wide rocket-boosted S-21 suborbital module is mounted on the plane's fuselage and has a three-person crew (including the lone pilot).

The M-55 will fly to an altitude of 11-12 miles (17-19 kilometers), gain sufficient speed for performing a release maneuver and release the sub-orbital module. The S-21 will have a horizontal flight range up to 500 kilometers and can climb to a maximum altitude of 101 kilometers for about three minutes, after which it will land on an airfield like a regular plane. The shuttle will be able to take off from any country, as its launch does not require any special infrastructure other than an airport with a runway of 1,600 yards (1,800 meters)". 

Most surprising was the S-21's stated mission - it's a tourist spacecraft. Sergei Kostenko, head of Suborbital Corporation (a US-Russian private firm created for the project) claimed in mid-March that "around 100 people have paid $100,000 each into a special account (to book places)". Knowing the Kremlin's penchant for double-duty taskings on Russia's civilian transportation infrastructure, there are probably several military missions being planned for the S-21. - Adam Geibel


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