MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia will spend billions of dollars over the next three years to consolidate its leading role in the space industry, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said.
The former president, quoted by local news agencies, told a government meeting that Russia, which accounts for 40 percent of all space launches, would earmark more than 200 billion rubles ($7.68 billion) from the federal budget for development of the space industry in 2009-11.
Russia's Soyuz manned spacecraft and Progress cargo vehicles have been the main workhorses serving the International Space Station (ISS) since the U.S. Shuttle "Columbia" disintegrated on reentry in 2003.
"It is obvious that this status of a reliable international partner should be constantly upheld," Putin told the special meeting in Krasnoyarsk Krai in Siberia.
The U.S. space agency NASA plans to mothball its entire Space Shuttle fleet by 2011.
"Evidently...between 2011 and 2016 the United States will not possess a new spaceship to replace the Space Shuttle," news agencies quoted Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos, as telling Putin.
"So Russian spacecraft will bear the brunt of transportation and maintenance works, as well as replacing [ISS] crews and launching European and Japanese cargo ships from time to time."
Putin said Russia's group of space satellites had reached more than 100 units and would rise steadily. But he also called for more efficient use of space achievements, warning otherwise Russia "might lose a promising market on its own land."
He said the development of a national satellite navigation system was a priority area. Other spheres could be geological research from space, as well as ecological control and monitoring of farming, forest, and water resources.