Russia has revived its ambition to have its own orbital station again as tension grows between the Eastern European superpower and the western world.
Announced by Russian state space agency Roscosmos on Monday, the project may resurrect the Mir-2 concept, which Russia was developing since the late 1980s to replace its Mir station and which was eventually dropped due to high cost.
"I confirm we are considering such an option. This is a possible direction of development," Russian space agency RIA Novosti quoted Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko as saying when asked whether Russia has plans to develop its own space station.
Designed to rival the International Space Station, a collaboration between 15 states which Russia joined in 1993, the new Russian station could become an important stepping stone in Russia’s journey to the Moon, Ostapenko said.
In May this year, Russia has hinted it may not wish to commit to the ISS project in the long term, despite the US ambition to keep it operating until at least 2024, four years beyond its originally intended end of life.
It is not clear how Russia envisions financing the development of its prospective space station. The country’s economy is set to slow down next year as sanctions imposed by western countries in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis take its toll on businesses.
Despite being the sole provider of manned space launches to the ISS following the retirement of the US space shuttle, the Russian space industry has recently been plagued with problems. Nine satellites have been destroyed in the past seven years due to technical faults of Russia’s workhorse Proton rocket, mostly attributed to the country’s aging engineering workforce, a brain drain of young talent to the west and reduced budget.
Russia’s ambitious attempt to collect and return to Earth a sample from Martian Moon Phobos barely reached the Earth’s orbit before crashing down to the Pacific Ocean.
However, Russia celebrated a major space success recently with the launch of the Angara Rocket, the first new launcher designed and built by Russia in more than two decades.
Russia operated its Mir space station between 1986 and 2001. Mir’s successor Mir-2 was scrapped but individual parts of the concept were used at the International Space Station, including the first orbiting module Zarya.
Russia is also a partner of the European Space Agency in the ExoMars project, Europe's first attempt to put a rover on the surface of Mars. Russia stepped in and virtually saved the venture from being cancelled after US space agency Nasa pulled out in 2012 following budget cuts.