[FPSPACE] Interfax commentary on Mir
Dwayne Allen Day
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
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
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
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.