Moscow is back in the race for orbital tourism.

Russian Space Agency Roscosmos is sending a spacecraft to the International Space Station on Wednesday with a Japanese billionaire on board.

The flight marks the country's return, to the arena after a decade-long hiatus and as the Russian aerospace industry is plagued by scandals and has lost ground to American competitors.

Indeed, space tourism, a very lucrative sector, is currently experiencing a resurgence of interest, in particular because of the entry into the race of billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

"I am excited, like a child before a class trip"

The whimsical 46-year-old Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who made his fortune in online fashion, and his assistant Yozo Hirano are due to depart from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 8 at 0738 GMT.

“I'm excited, like a kid before a class trip,” Yusaku Maezawa said at an on-site press conference.

“I really want to see Earth from Space, to experience zero gravity, of how space is changing people, how I am going to change after this flight.

"

Their flight is scheduled to last six hours, with docking scheduled at the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the ISS at 1341 GMT.

The two Japanese stay 12 days aboard the station.

Yozo Hirano will have to video document their stay for the billionaire's YouTube channel, which has set 100 tasks to accomplish.

Badminton tournament in zero gravity

Cosmonaut Alexandre Missourkine, who will pilot the Soyuz, judged that his companions will have a busy schedule: "It will be a challenge to do everything".

He has planned a “friendly” weightless badminton tournament with the space tourists.

Seven people are currently on board the ISS, including two Russians and a Japanese.

For several weeks, the two Japanese prepared in the City of Stars, a city built near Moscow in the 1960s to train generations of cosmonauts.

This mission is organized by Roscosmos and its American partner Space Adventures.

The two space agencies had already collaborated between 2001 and 2009 to send extremely wealthy entrepreneurs into space eight times.

The first feature-length film in orbit will be Russian

The trip of the two Japanese comes at a time when private flights in space are increasing.

In September, SpaceX hosted a three-day orbit flight with an all-amateur crew.

Elon Musk's company also plans to take several tourists around the moon in 2023, including Yusaku Maezawa, who is funding this operation.

Other private actors are in the ranks, such as the Blue Origin company of the founder of Amazon, the American Jeff Bezos, or even Virgin Galactic, of the British Richard Branson.

As a sign of the Russian space sector's desire for a facelift, in October Roscosmos sent a director and an actress aboard the ISS to shoot the first feature-length film in orbit history, before a competing project of Tom Cruise.

In 2020, with the commissioning of SpaceX rockets and capsules, Russia lost its monopoly on manned flights to the ISS, and therefore also the tens of millions of dollars that went together for each seat that NASA and d other space agencies were buying aboard the Soyuz.

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  • Billionaire

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