After a decade-long hiatus, Russia is relaunching an ambitious bid for dominion over the world’s budding space tourism industry, jostling with zealous billionaires, the United States, and rising China. Russia flaunted its comeback this month dispatching two cosmic adventurers — Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant — to the International Space Station (ISS) in its first launch of tourists in 12 years. Buoyed by the success, firebrand space chief Dmitry Rogozin talked up Russia’s next steps to supremacy: a special module at the ISS for Russia’s visitors, spacewalks outside the station, and — down the line — trips around the moon. “We will not give this niche to the Americans. We are ready to fight for it,” he told reporters at a press conference as Maezawa was blasting towards the ISS on a 12-day mission. Yet Russia’s path to industry dominance is dotted with new obstacles that have emerged since it was last in the game a decade ago. Back then, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a monopoly on sending the cash-flushed curious to space. That changed when US agency NASA retired its own shuttle for astronauts in 2011 and snatched up every seat to the ISS Roscosmos had on offer for the next decade. Then, last year, billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX barged onto the scene with its first successful ISS mission and NASA dropped Roscosmos. At a reported $90 million per seat, this was a huge financial blow to the cash-strapped Russian space agency, hit simultaneously with budget cuts and corruption scandals. Analysts say Roscosmos has no choice but to turn to tourism to cover the shortfall. “The Russian space industry is reliant on consistent orders for these launches,” industry analyst Vitaly Yegorov told AFP. The price tag for one seat — estimated at $50-60 million — covers the cost of building the three-person Soyuz spacecraft to shuttle the crew, he said, while a second traveller turns a profit.