Russia offers cut-price space station parts

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Russia could transform itself from the weakest link in
the International Space Station (ISS) project by
providing cheap components to replace US ones that
may be lost to NASA budget cuts.

Russia has held up construction of the ISS in the past
due to financial difficulties. The station's service
module, in which the crew lives, was two years late.
But the Russian space agency has now said that it
could provide future parts for the station at a fraction
of the cost of US components.

These could also provide room aboard the orbiting
outpost to accommodate six crew members rather
than just three, which would free-up astronauts to
perform more on-board science experiments.

"In principle it's a nice option," says Benny
Elmann-Larsen, who organises human physiological
experiments aboard the ISS for the European Space
Agency. "There probably will be a deal coming up in
case the US has to cut back on modules."

A forecast budget overrun of $4.8 billion over the next
four years means that NASA must reduce its plans for
the ISS by $1 billion.

Back to basics

Elmann-Larsen says that construction is cheaper in
Russia because of lower labour costs and because
existing components can often be adapted for use in

Russian Aerospace Agency Director Yuri Koptev said
that Russia could supply an additional Soyuz escape
capsule, a backup cargo module, and other parts for
the station.

Koptev claimed that Russia could make the parts up
to 60 per cent cheaper than the US. "Building up the
station without increasing the number of the crew
means that no time is left for any scientific programs,
because all the crew's time is spent on maintaining
the station,'' Koptev said.

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