April 8, 2011

Russia To Boost Efforts For Bigger Piece Of Space Market

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia will boost its efforts to explore the solar system and seek a bigger share of the market for space launches in the next decade.

Putin said while speaking ahead of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering space flight that Russia's plans go beyond transporting crews to the International Space Station.

"Russia should not limit itself to the role of an international space ferryman. We need to increase our presence on the global space market," Putin told space and other government officials at his residence outside Moscow.

Putin said Russia is the world's fourth-largest spender on space after NASA, the European Space Agency and France.

"Such resources enable us to set serious goals," Putin said.

He said Russia currently provides about 40 percent of all space launches and wants to increase its share of what he said was a $200 billion market to as much as 50 percent in the near future.

Russia would begin sending humans into space from a new facility it is building in Vostochny in eastern Siberia starting in 2018.

"It is worth recalling that our automatic stations in the '50s and '70s were first in reaching the moon, Mars and Venus. These achievements are forever written into the history of space research," Putin said.

"Now Russia is returning to researching the planets of the solar system."

Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961 after orbiting Earth in the 108-minute flight that stunned the world and raised the stakes in the U.S.-Soviet space race.

Russia is now set to be the only country to take crews to space after NASA shuts down its shuttle program later this year.

A Russian Soyuz craft bearing Gagarin's portrait docked with the International Space Station (ISS) early on Thursday, delivering two Russians and an American astronaut to the orbital outpost.

Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach predicted Russia would face a space-spending squeeze in 2015 through 2016 unless it makes long-term budget plans that would include moon research and other programs.

The country's space program has also suffered recent setbacks including the delay last month of a Soyuz launch to the International Space Station (ISS) and two failed satellite launches this year.

Scientists at the meeting were divided over the future direction of the space program and whether it should set it sights on the moon or Mars.

Lev Zelyony, director of Russia's Space Research Institute, told Reuters that it should first focus on the moon, predicting a new space race because of a recent discovery that there could be water there.

"Where there are resources, there is always competition," said Zelyony.  He said two moon explorations are planned in 2013. but there are no funds that have been assigned for the missions.

Vitaly Lopota, head of spacecraft manufacturer Energiya, told Reuters that the U.S. was looking to Mars and Russia should do the same.

"If we make the moon the priority we will lose in the long term," he said.


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