[FPSPACE] Interfax commentary on Mir

Dwayne Allen Day wayneday@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu
Wed, 18 Oct 2000 09:34:42 -0400 (EDT)


Decision to sink space station Mir very difficult to make

     By Interfax news analysts Valery Baberdin and Yevgeny Devyatyarov

      MOSCOW.  Oct  17 (Interfax) - Almost everyone agrees  today  that
Russia cannot afford the heavy burden of keeping the glorious but aging
space  station  Mir  in  orbit. The upsurge  of  political  and  public
interest in Mir that could have given the station several more years of
life faded as soon as specific amounts of money came into question.
      In  February, Mir will mark its 15th year in space.  Its  service
life  had initially been set at 3.5 years, but was later prolonged many
times.  The  station remains unmanned since the 28th long-term  mission
departed on June 16.
       Nobody  has  so  far  ventured  to  assume  responsibility   for
pronouncing the death sentence on Mir.
     Due to meet on Thursday, the board of the Russian Aerospace Agency
should  decide  the  future  of Mir and submit  its  proposals  to  the
government.
      The station's operator-the rocket and space corporation Energiya-
announced on Monday that as Mir is government property "the decision on
its further operation should be made by the president and government."
      Earlier, the Council of Chief Designers forced to pass  at  least
some  kind  of  a resolution on Mir issued an astonishingly  indistinct
text,  the  message of which could be interpreted as: "Dear government,
we are getting out, the matter is for you to decide."

[snipped background and mention of MirCorp's IPO]

      However,  several  space  experts have  told  Interfax  that  the
decision-even if interest in company shares is great-is quite  belated.
MirCorp  has  not  yet paid for the launch of the Progress  M-43  cargo
spaceship on October 17.
      Officials from the Aerospace Agency have stressed that, given its
financial  problems,  Energiya is unable to work on  two  manned  space
programs:   Mir  and  the  International  Space  Station   (ISS).   The
construction and launch of a cargo spaceship takes one and  a  half  to
two years and costs about $7 million. It costs $200-$250 million a year
to keep Mir running.
      The disastrous shortage of money for Mir is forcing Russia to cut
slices  from  the  ISS  pie, prompting other parties  involved  in  the
building  of  the  ISS  to  reproach Russia for  failing  to  meet  its
commitments.
      Energiya has launched one Progress and one Soyuz manned  ship  to
Mir,  removing  them  from its part in the international  program.  The
postponement  from  December to February of the  launch  of  a  Russian
tanker  spacecraft  to  the ISS is also attributed  to  the  fact  that
Energiya  had  to intensify its efforts to build another tanker  to  be
launched to Mir in January.
      Russia has thus not found non-budgetary resources for funding the
operation  of  Mir, and the additional 1.5 billion rubles envisaged  by
the 2000 budget have still not been disbursed.
     The recent government resolution of October 10 is unlikely to save
the  station,  although  it  allows the channeling  of  up  to  70%  of
government  revenues from the sale of R&D results to R&D  programs  "of
military, special or dual purpose, including government support for the
manned operation of the Mir space station."
      "The  resolution does not specify what part of the returns should
be  assigned to Mir, and so nothing is assigned at all," spokesman  for
the head of the Russian Aerospace Agency Sergei Gorbunov has said.
      "The  government  will be able to find money  only  to  sink  the
station.  And it must find these 600 million rubles because  Russia  is
responsible to the world for its [Mir's] safe operation," Gorbunov told
Interfax  in  comments on the possible decision of the  Thursday  board
session.
      Evidently on Thursday we will hear the Agency's final decision on
the  Mir's  future.  However,  from experience  we  know  that  another
analysis of all the pros and cons ("live" or "die") may again not  lead
with  a  clear statement and higher instances will have to  assume  the
responsibility for the difficult decision.