October 12, 2009

Russia Hopes To Extend Life Of ISS

Officials said on Sunday that Russia expects to extend the life of the International Space Station beyond 2015, although Moscow must bear the brunt of flights after the U.S. retires its shuttles.

Alexei Krasnov, head of manned programs at Russian space agency Roscosmos, told a news conference that space agency heads will meet in March 2010 to discuss the future of the International Space Station (ISS).

"The main question to be raised is whether to extend the life of the ISS beyond 2015. I believe the issue will be approved," Krasnov said at Mission Control outside of Moscow.

He spoke after a Russian-American crew returned to Earth after spending over half a year on a space odyssey.  They were joined by Canadian circus billionaire Guy Laliberte, who spent about two weeks in space.

The space agencies that partner with Russia in the ISS are NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese and Canadian space agencies.

NASA is planning six more missions by its fleet of current space shuttles after the construction of the $100 billion ISS is completed.  The shuttles will be retired in 2010 or 2011.

Anatoly Perminov, Roscomos head, told RIA news agency on September 25 that he had learned that NASA could extend the deadline to retire the shuttles.

However, Vitaly Lopota, general director of Russian spacecraft builder RKK Energia, said that if the shuttles were retired then it would increase the burden on Russia for manning the ISS, which is currently in orbit 225 miles above Earth.

Lopota said at a news conference that Russia has doubled the number of manned space flights to four this year, and is planning to send six cargo ships per year to the space station, which is more than usual.

"We work economically, we live economically and we maintain the station in an economical way," Lopota said.

NASA's future for its space missions is under review, which includes focusing on possible flights to Mars.  It is also encouraging a private space taxi project to the ISS.

A new rocket and capsule to transport astronauts to the ISS is also being developed, but it is not expected to be operational until about 2015.  NASA will rely on Roscomos until then, and will have to pay $50 million per seat for flights to the ISS by Soyuz capsules.


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