Tim Furniss/LONDON

NASA is threatening to drop Russia from the International Space Station (ISS) programme after it was revealed that late arrival of Russian equipment could cause new delays.

Joseph Rothenberg, the US space agency's associate administrator for spaceflight, has told Congress that NASA will decide on 15 May whether to continue the co-operation. Although NASA believes that it can carry on without Russia, the move will intensify pressure from Congress to cancel the project, which has cost over $10 billion and is likely to need $40 billion more by 2003.

The latest crisis has been caused by a delay of at least three months in delivery of the Russian Service Module, due to have been launched in December, possibly pushing the start of assembly of the ISS into 1999.

Assembly of the ISS was to have begun in June with the launch of the Russian Control Module and followed closely by the first Space Shuttle carrying the US Node 1, but this had already been pushed back to August because of equipment delivery problems.

Russian participation in the ISS - agreed in 1994 - probably saved the ISS from the Congressional axe, but lack of financial resources in Russia have dogged the project.

Delays have also hit NASA's first components for the ISS.

Source: Flight International