Putin Pledges Billions for Space Industry

APPrime Minister Vladimir Putin visiting a satellite equipment factory in Zheleznogorsk, near Krasnoyarsk, on Tuesday.
Russia will spend billions of dollars over the next three years to consolidate its leading role in the space industry, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

Putin, quoted by local news agencies, told a government meeting that Russia, which accounts for 40 percent of all space launches, would earmark more than 200 billion rubles ($7.68 billion) from the federal budget for developing the space industry from 2009 to 2011.

The country's Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo vehicles have been the main workhorses, serving the international space station since the U.S. Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

"It is obvious that the status of a reliable international partner should be constantly upheld," Putin told the special meeting in the Krasnoyarsk region.

NASA plans to mothball its entire space shuttle fleet by 2011.

"Evidently ... between 2011 and 2016, the United States will not possess a new spaceship to replace the space shuttle," Anatoly Perminov, head of the Federal Space Agency, told Putin.

"So, Russian spacecraft will bear the brunt of transportation and maintenance works, as well as replacing [space station] crews and launching European and Japanese cargo ships from time to time."

Putin said Russia's Glonass space satellites had reached more than 100 units and would rise steadily. But he also called for more efficient use of space achievements, warning that otherwise Russia "might lose a promising market on its own land."

He said the development of the satellite navigation system was a priority area. Other spheres could be geological research from space, environmental control and natural resource monitoring.