Russian Space Capsule Rockets to €1 Million at Lempertz Auction

The Vozvrashchayemi Apparat (VA) space capsule on display in Lempertz's Brussels branch Courtesy Lempertz

The Vozvrashchayemi Apparat (VA) space capsule on display in Lempertz's Brussels branch
Courtesy Lempertz

After two trips to space in the 1970s and a much more recent (and earth-bound) grand tour around Europe, a Russian Vozvrashchayemi Apparat (VA) space capsule sold at Lempertz's newly opened Brussels branch last night for €1 million ($1.4 million) to a phone bidder who the auction house would only confirm was calling from within Europe. The result fell comfortably in the middle of its presale estimate of €700,000 to €1.4 million.

The same bidder was also reported to have purchased one of the two Sokol KV2 space suits on offer alongside the VA capsule. That suit, worn by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kalery in 1996 in a mission to the MIR space station sold for €63,000 ($87,600; all prices include buyer's premium). Its counterpart, worn by British-American Astronaut Michael Foale on a trip to the International Space Station atop a Soyuz rocket in 2003, went for a slightly higher €70,000 ($98,000), also to a telephone bidder. The space suits both carried estimates of $80,000.

Last night's auction marked the first time that a space capsule was sold in Europe. It was also a slight programmatic anomaly for the Cologne-based auction house, which typically specializes in Old Masters, classical modern, and post-war art. But the opportunity for a buzzy launch of their Brussels office was too good to pass up.

The €1 million result fell well short of Sotheby's New York's 2011 auction of at Vostok 3KA-2 capsule, which was purchased for $2.9 million. However, the VA capsule is also less historically significant due to the Vostok 3KA-2 having been the very first capsule to carry manned missions into space.

The capsule itself traveled to Europe by way of Saudi Arabia, where it was on show in a science fair. It was consigned by Isle of Man-based commercial space flight company Excalibur Almaz, which is designing a new rocket and space capsule based on the Vozvrashchayemi Apparat. It's doubtful that the VA capsule could be re-readied for orbital flight in the future.

According to Lempertz, the capsule was the first spacecraft to enter orbit twice. The VA class capsules are also the only reusable spacecraft other than the United States' since-retired space shuttles. It was developed during the Cold War for the Russian Almaz Space Station program, in response to the United States' own effort, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.