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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 15:41 GMT


Mir may ditch in August

Mir could now fall to Earth later this year

By BBC News Online Science Editor David Whitehouse

The future of the Russian space station Mir is again in doubt.

The Energiya rocket corporation, which owns Mir, said the $250-million-a-year foreign sponsorship that would keep the station in orbit has failed to materialise. It may now be abandoned as early as August.

Yuri Koptev, director of the Russian Space Agency, said their announcement last month to keep Mir going for another three years had been premature.

"Unfortunately our lives are such that we sometimes consider the desirable already a reality," he told reporters after addressing a cabinet meeting on the space programme chaired by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

"It was not a deception of society or the government, there were serious negotiations and signed documents," he said. "But some obstacles have changed things."

American dismay

The United States and other partners in the new International Space Station (ISS) were dismayed by Russia's plans to extend the life of Mir. Russia had an agreement that their old station would be re-entered into the Earth's atmosphere later this year.

[ image: ISS: Currently under construction]
ISS: Currently under construction
With Russia being a partner in ISS, other countries feared that it would not be able to pay full attention to Mir and the ISS at the same time. Russia has already fallen far behind on its obligations for the ISS.

Yuri Koptev added that the plan to save Mir was not over and that Russia would continue to seek private funding for it until April. "Then we will have to take a tough decision to end the space station in August or September," he said.

The 13-year-old Mir space station is the last remnant of Russia's once mighty independent space programme. With its current economic difficulties, the country's space effort is just a fraction of what it once was.

Revised plans

Last month, the Russian government gave Energiya permission to keep Mir flying for several years if outside money was found. Energiya said it had a backer but refused to name them.

Now that this deal has fallen through, the Russians have been forced to announce revamped plans for Mir's near future. Current Mir cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, who has already spent half a year in space, will orbit for another 184 days until August.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Haignere, who goes up to Mir next week for what was supposed to be a 99-day expedition, will have his trip extended to six months.

Commenting on the dire financial situation, Yuri Koptev said the space programme would continue to face significant difficulties this year as the 1999 budget allocates it only three billion roubles ($131 million).

"This is far less than the minimum we need to service all the projects that we have," he said.

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