NEWTOWN, Conn. --- Originally, Russia planned to transport only its own cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on board its Soyuz capsules. However, with the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet, the Soyuz spacecraft is the only crewed spacecraft capable of carrying crew to and from the ISS. Now, all space station partners - including the U.S., the European Space Agency (ESA), Canada, and Japan - that send crew members to the ISS use the Soyuz.
Between 2003 and 2010, two Soyuz capsules were launched each year. In 2011, the number increased to three. Four Soyuz capsules were launched in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Three more were launched in 2015. At one point, Energia talked about increasing production to five Soyuz spacecraft per year. However, launches have remained steady at three to four per year.
The Russian Federal Space Agency has discontinued space tourism flights on board the Soyuz spacecraft. This was done to increase available space for crew members. In January 2011, Space Adventures Ltd and Roscosmos agreed to restart tourist flights to the ISS. Had Energia increased production to five per year, the increased production rate would have allowed the Soyuz to accommodate the extra people on board. Originally intended to start in 2013, no tourist flights have occurred so far. It is likely that tourist flights will not commence any time soon.
Soyuz production will remain at four spacecraft per year through the life of the ISS. Currently, the ISS is expected to cease operations in 2024. However, by 2020 U.S. spacecraft will be operational and will take some of the demand for launch services away from the Soyuz spacecraft. At this time, production of the Soyuz spacecraft is expected to continue into the next decade. However, production will be at a lower rate than between 2015 and 2020.