Tim Furniss/LONDON

NASA IS BECOMING concerned about Russia's attempts to save money by prolonging the life of its Mir 1 space station to enable it to be incorporated into the initial configuration of the Alpha International Space Station.

Statements proposing the plan were first made by Anatoli Kiselev, director-general of the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Centre, on 13 November, and have since been repeated by other Russian space officials during a recent STS74/Shuttle Mir Mission (SMM) 2.

The original plan calls for the Mir 1 space station to be completed by the addition of the final module, the Priroda, in early 1996. It will play host to the SMM3-7 missions in 1996-7, including four long-duration stays by NASA astronauts Shannon Lucid, John Blaha, Jerry Linenger and Michael Foale. SMM3/STS76 is scheduled for lift-off on 28 March, 1996.

The SMM7 mission is scheduled for September 1997, two months before Russia is due to launch the first element of the Alpha - the Functional Energy Block (FGB). The FGB will be the host craft for NASA's first Alpha component, the Node 1. By May 1998, a core service module, based on the Mir 1 core module, will have been added to the FGB, plus a Soyuz TM ferry, which will allow manned occupation without the Space Shuttle being connected.

It had been intended to leave the Mir 1 flying autonomously after the SMMs during 1998, to evaluate a joint US/Russian solar-dynamic electrical-generating system, and then to mothball the station, allowing the Alpha to take over (Flight International, 22-28 November).

Russian officials are now suggesting that it would be wasteful not to use the most recent Spectr and Priroda modules as part of the initial Alpha configuration, and even that the entire Mir 1 station should play host to the FGB and the US Node 1 in a reconfigured Alpha.

Russia is being paid more than $100 million to supply the FGB module, but will have to fund other planned Alpha components, but says that, with the help of servicing, the Mir 1 could operate until 2002.

NASA has confirmed that Russia "...has proposed a change to its contribution to the Alpha and to use components from Mir 1". NASA states that it is "...committed to the Alpha baseline design" and says that, "...unless significant cost savings can be made without risk to the schedule, we can't see why we should change [it]".

Although the Alpha is designed so that it can be completed and operated without Russian participation, it would be more expensive and would take longer to complete..

NASA has not rejected the Russian proposal entirely, although its international partners - the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan - view the potential reconfiguration with alarm because it creates uncertainty over exactly where and when their parts of the Space Station will be used.


Source: Flight International