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Saturday, January 17, 1998 Published at 23:39 GMT


Space station 2003 is go
image: [ The space station of the future (an artist's impression) ]
The space station of the future (an artist's impression)

The first section of a future international space station has been rolled out by Russian space officials from a factory near Moscow.

The cargo module is the basic building block for the station and is to be taken to the launch site in Kazakhstan next week. It is due to blast off into orbit from the Baikonur cosmodrome in June.

[ image: First element of a new space station]
First element of a new space station
The aim of the project is to provide a replacement for Russia's aging Mir space station which will be decommissioned in 1999. The 11-year-old Mir has been dogged by many technical problems in the last year.

International co-operation

The first section has been built by Russia and funded by the United States. It will provide the initial propulsion and power for a new space station.

Other sections will be launched at intervals, as they become ready. All modules are on course to be in orbit by 2002. The space station is expected to be assembled and ready by 2003.

Long journey

[ image: The new station will be used for scientific research]
The new station will be used for scientific research
The module will begin the 1,200 mile five-day journey next Thursday from the Khrunichev factory in Moscow to the cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

It will be accompanied by a massive Proton rocket, which will be used to put the module into orbit.

In addition to the US and Russia, the European Space Agency (ESA), Canada and Japan are also involved in the project.

Behind schedule

The module was originally due to blast off from Baikonur last November, but delays in construction of the second Russian element of the station and financial problems put back the launch date.

[ image: The service module under construction]
The service module under construction
It has cost around $232m to build. It will stay in orbit for 15 years, longer than the time planned for any of the other modules.

The second Russian section due to be ready in December is the service module which will cost an estimated $800m to build.

They will be joined in space later by six laboratory modules, three Russian, one American, one Japanese and one European.

There will also be another US module able to accommodate four crew and docking facilities.

Innovative design

[ image: Endeavour due to rendezvous with module in July]
Endeavour due to rendezvous with module in July
The design of the first module is based on the development of the 11-year-old Mir and earlier Soviet Salyut space stations.

But Russian and American space officials have said that it boasts a number of innovations, including a special shield to protect it from micro-meteorites.

The US shuttle Endeavour is due to rendezvous with the cargo module in July when it is in orbit.

Endeavour will deliver the second module and the crew will begin to the space station.


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