Bad End of the Dream - 3 April, 2003

It seems that the project of the International Space Station is experiencing its hardest times over the whole period of its existence. When the Columbia shuttle catastrophe occurred in February, a question immediately arose: what may next happen to the International Space Station? A lion's share of all deliveries to the Station was performed with shuttles.  Now it seems that nothing will happen to the Station. However, there will be no more people there as well.

Right after the Columbia demise it was supposed that Russian spaceships would be successfully used instead of American shuttles. However, the situation turned out to be not simple in fact. To tell the truth, specialists mentioned several times already that Russia wouldn't be able to maintain operations of the International Space Station independently. Negotiations on partial financing of Russian Progress and Soyuz space vessels' flights  were held with NASA last week, but no results were achieved. The US Aeronautics and Space Administration declared that Russia was anyway obliged to send its five Progress cargo space ships and two Soyuz manned ships to the International Space Station every year. But in fact, Russia possesses only two ships of each type at present. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the number of ship launching will increase in the nearest future, as financing appropriated for these purposes in 2003 makes up less than 4 billion rubles. The sum wasn't enough even under regular conditions, not to speak of the present-day force majeur.

In April, the Russian government is ready to consider the possibility of appropriation of extra financing to the sum of 750 million rubles. However, it is not yet clear whether the sum will be enough for proper operation of the International Space Station.

Director of Rosaviakosmos, the Russian Space and Aviation Agency, Yury Koptev mentions one more aspect: under these conditions Russia will have to sacrifice some of its own space plans as all efforts and financial resources are now directed to construction of more space ships.  So, till beginning of the next year when a ATV cargo space ship of the European Space Agency is supposed to be sent to the International Space Station, Russia will have to maintain the station alone. Will Russia be a success with this? And what is more, it's not ruled out that such selflessness of Russia won’t be appreciated by its partners on the International Space Station.

Vasily Bubnov

Author`s name Michael Simpson