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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Problems At Pacific Space Site

International plans to build a commercial space launching station on an isolated site in Papua New Guinea have run into problems, and companies are struggling to find an estimated $900 million to fund the project, Russian officials said Thursday.

"Our partners, Australia's Space Transportation Systems, promised to get loans in the next six months and we signed a letter of intent about the deal," Anatoly Kisilyov, director of the Khrunichev Space Center, said by telephone. "But there seem to be problems."

He said the Australian company had not yet provided funding for Russian firms to supply launch equipment for the Pacific space center.

But Kisilyov said the Russian space center, which builds the heavy-duty Russian Proton rockets, hoped the deal would go ahead.

"We have not rejected the idea, but are watching carefully to see what steps our partners take," he said. Further talks are due early next year.

Under the project, first discussed last year, Russia would supply technical advice, launchers and booster rockets, and help in building and operating the cosmodrome.

The Australian firm would raise money for the project, which has been approved by the New Guinea government. Companies from all over the world would be invited to invest, officials said last September. The first launches were due in 1998.

But Kisilyov said work had not yet started. He said he was sure Russian firms could make profits from space launches from the New Guinea site because the payload of rockets would be bigger than at the Baikonur cosmodrome, administered by Russia and Kazakhstan.

"We can only make two or three commercial launches a year from Baikonur because it is also used for military flights and for Russia's space program," he said. A Proton booster launched from Baikonur could carry 2.4 tons of cargo, compared with four tons for a booster from the new site.

Kisilyov said eight or 10 launches a year would be needed to offset construction costs for the new station, which would take two or three years to build.

"It is a very tough program because the United States make 70 percent of satellites, and competition on the world launch market is becoming more sensitive," he said.

Russia sees space technology and rocket launches as a key area where it can compete with the best. But it fears moves to squeeze it out of the highly competitive world market.