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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NASA Lifts Russian Role in Space Station

NASA plans to use much more Russian technology and hardware than expected in the construction of a new international space station, according to plans submitted this week to the U. S. government.

"The goal is to focus on Russian assets that can reduce our costs or improve our capabilities while avoiding significant job impact in the United States", according to the NASA plans for the project, now called Space Station Alpha.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has not completed its plans, but after a month of talks in Russia NASA issued a statement that it "believes that Russian participation could accelerate the space station schedule by as much as two years".

The new design could save $4 billion over the next five years and $18 billion over the life of the program, NASA said.

The station's first components could be launched by 1998 and it is planned to be operational by 2003. It was not clear if the new design would speed up that schedule.

"NASA has not released before that the Russian contribution was going to be this big", said Royce Dalby, an analyst in Moscow with Anser, a U. S. government advisor on Russian space technology. "People not working on the program may be surprised".

The new plans, obtained from NASA, show that the Russian contribution will include a space laboratory, crew rescue vehicle and docking devices.

The program, recently completed by Russian and U. S. scientists meeting in Washington, was sent this week to U. S. President Bill Clinton, who will submit the proposal to Congress for approval.

But the large Russian component could foment opposition in congress, which is already skittish about the loss of U. S. jobs. "It could evolve into a big battle", Dalby predicted.

Dalby said, though, that the Russian contribution is really the project's strength. Russia, which has had an active space station longer than any other country, has more experience and more advanced technology than the United States in several key areas.

"The choice is probably to bring on the Russians and have a great space station or leave off the Russians and have no space station at all", Dalby said.

The U. S. share is estimated to be about $14 billion. The Russian costs, however, are difficult to estimate. Dalby said that if produced in the United States, the Russian contribution could be worth between $5 and $6 billion.

The United States, following meetings in September between U. S. Vice President Albert Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, agreed to give Russian companies $400 million for their work on the space station in return for Russia's signing of the missile ban treaty.

New plans for the station show Russia and the United States will jointly develop a solar dynamic collector, which is a new technology based on Russian research that could provide greater power to the station than is offered by traditional solar arrays.

Still being debated is a tug for the station that will allow it to maneuver more easily. Whether the Russians or Americans would produce the tug is unknown.

The Japanese and European space agencies will each provide space labs for the station, with other contributions from Canada and Italy.