Russian space station Mir will be manned permanently from next year after receiving the go-ahead from the MirCorp directors, the company set up to commercialise the ageing space station.

Privately financed MirCorp flights will start with an unmanned resupply mission on a Progress M1 tanker to Mir in the fourth quarter of this year, followed by two long-duration manned Soyuz missions in 2001. The Progress will deliver propellant and other supplies to allow Mir to maintain autonomous operations into early 2001.

The MirCorp board's go-ahead for permanently manned mode allows the company to start negotiations with the "many potential clients" who are interested in participating in its "Citizen Explorer" programme.

The first Citizen Explorer will be US businessman Dennis Tito, who will join a two-man Russian cosmonaut team on a 10-day mission next year.

The plan "sends a message to our potential strategic partners, investors, sponsors, advertisers and affiliates that MirCorp's momentum is building", says Andrew Eddy, MirCorp's senior vice-president business planning.

Source: Flight International