US firm Space Adventures is potentially interested in buying a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to make tourist flights to the International Space Station (ISS), ITAR-TASS quoted the company’s chief as saying.

The Arlington, Virgina-based firm, which brokered the first two tourist space flights in 2001 and 2002, has signed a contract with the Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos to fly two more tourists to the ISS in 2004-2005.

Eric Anderson, chief executive officer, told the news agency in Los Angeles that Space Adventures was keen to send the two space tourists on board one spaceship accompanied by a professional astronaut.

They even considered the possibility of buying a Soyuz spaceship. Negotiations on the general issue are underway, but it was not clear what the outcome of the talks would be, Andersen said.

A Russian space agency official said earlier last week that Russia could build and sell a Soyuz craft to a private company offering tourists flights but only for a very high price.

“We can sell a spaceship. They have to understand, however, that it will cost not 20 million or U$40-million, but much more,” said Rosaviakosmos spokesman Sergei Gorbunov.

“Russia may build a Soyuz outside the ISS programme. This technical possibility exists, but we have not discussed anything yet or received any offers,” he added.