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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Russian space station a 'real possibility'
Mir AP
Mir met a fiery end over the Pacific
A new, purpose-built Russian space station moved one small step closer on Tuesday when an agreement was signed in Moscow to look into the feasibility of the idea.

This is not pie in the sky

Jeffrey Manber, MirCorp
The new platform - if it ever gets built - will be specially designed to host fare-paying space tourists, said Jeffrey Manber, head of MirCorp, the finance company that helped fund Russia's old station towards the end of its mission.

Mr Manber said the agreement signed by his firm with the Russian space agency and Russia's leading spacecraft builder Energia could see the new station in orbit by 2004.

But Russian space agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov was more cautious in his analysis of the current situation.

Early days

"All that has been signed is an agreement that opens the way for a feasibility study; one that will be conducted by Energia and not MirCorp. Nothing has been decided yet," he said.

Manber BBC
Jeffrey Manber is bullish about the future
"No one can say the station will be built. We won't make a decision about its feasibility before year end at least."

The new space station, Mini Station 1, would likely cost about $100m, Mr Manber said.

It would fly for about 15 years and be a fully-fledged commercial operation, selling holidays in space. The platform would be able to accommodate three visitors on visits of up to 20 days at a time, he said.

Controlled descent

"This is not pie in the sky," Mr Manber added. "We've developed a business plan that is pragmatic and very do-able. I give it a very high rate of probability."

Mir in orbit AP
Mini Station 1 would be much smaller than Mir
The MirCorp president said there were several customers willing to pay for a ride on the new station already, and their contributions would help build it.

In April, Californian businessman Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist, paying about $20m for a short trip to the new International Space Station. He should have gone to Mir but the Russians decided the ageing platform had to be ditched in the Pacific before its failing systems made a controlled descent impossible.

The switch to the ISS caused consternation at the American space agency (Nasa) which thought a tourist might interfere with the crew's work.

Stopover location

Manber said he had briefed Nasa about MirCorp's latest proposals.

"I have been briefing Nasa on every step, and I believe they view us as a good development," he said. "The ISS is for science, and the Mini Station will be commercial."

Mr Manber suggested that the Mini Station could become a stopover location for Russian supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The fees paid by space tourists would cover much of the cost of those missions, he said.

From the BBC Archive
Mir sinking:"Spectators... heard sonic booms"
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