International Space Station on The Verge of Financial Collapse

spaceOn Monday, October 20, the eighth International Space Station crew began work on board the orbiting craft
Despite the successful launch of the Soyuz TMA-3 modified spaceship on October 18 and its no less successful docking, this expedition will most likely face difficulties that the crew will not be able to overcome. "The situation with the ISS programme's financing is disastrous," the head of the Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation, which produces space vehicles, Yuri Semyonov, has announced.

On the eve of the start of the expedition, Energiya First Deputy General Designer Nikolai Zelenshchikov said that the corporation, which produces Progress automatic carrier rockets, had taken the decision to postpone the launch of a regular booster scheduled for November until next January. "There is no urgent need for the launch. There are sufficient stocks of foods, fuel and water on the station and we can delay the launch," Zelenshchikov said.

Literally a few hours before that statement, Deputy General Director of the Russian Aerospace Agency (Rosaviakosmos) Nikolai Moiseyev said that a Sunday meeting between the heads of the national space agencies working on the ISS programme would not take place. "I do not see any need to spend an entire day solving all the problems that we have resolved in working order," Moiseyev specified.

It seems that these two statements are connected. At any rate, they reflect the main problem of the International Space Station today: the failure of Russia and the USA to agree on financing issues.

However, whereas the cancellation of the meeting between the officials of the Russian Aerospace Agency and NASA can be explained without any further comment (Rosaviakosmos head Yuri Koptev is currently in hospital), the situation with the cancelled Progress launch looks much more complex.

After all, the financing problem is the main reason for the launch's delay. Due to that, our organisation no longer has credit possibilities and we cannot proceed any further, Zelenshchikov says in his statement. In other words, no one will now build spaceships on credit.

It is easy to understand the Energiya management: neither the US nor the Russian government has provided the money that had been promised for this year.

In the middle of February this year, immediately after the Columbia shuttle disaster, when it became obvious that Russia would solely have to provide for the station's supplies for many months to come, NASA requested that Rosaviakosmos make an additional, fourth launch at the end of the year. It was scheduled for November. One can therefore draw the conclusion that at the start of the year US officials were already planning an additional launch, and that the station does not have sufficient food, fuel and water stocks, despite Zelenshchikov's statement. It would be appropriate to remember here that this year the Russian side has launched three Progress rockets according to schedule, but this put a strain on its financial possibilities. It was ready for the fourth launch as well, as NASA had promised to pay for it.

However, the USA did not come up with the money, referring once again to the so-called Gilmore amendment, which prohibits the provision of financial assistance to the Russian space programme because of Russia's co-operation with Iran in the nuclear technology field.

At the same time, the Russian government has also created financial problems for the Russian space sector. With a special resolution dated April 3, 2003 it resolved to transfer the sum of 1.3 billion roubles set aside for the financing of the International Space Station from the third-fourth quarters to the second quarter of this year. This measure would have enabled the Russian space sector to build an additional transport vehicle in advance. Apart from that, the resolution stipulated the allocation of an additional sum of 2.8 billion roubles to Rosaviakosmos to service and maintain the ISS. Unfortunately, these measures have remained on paper.

For the sake of justice, it should be noted that Energiya has managed to build the additional Progress booster on credit and bring it to the launching site to be ready, just in case, for any scenario. It is also clear that if things get any worse, the rocket will be launched after all, and before January.

Andrei Kislyakov, RIAN

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Author`s name Petr Ermilin