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Russia/US: Khrunichev Completes First Major Space Station Component

Bellingham, Washington, 23 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russia's Khrunichev Industries has completed the first major component of the International Space Station, according to The Boeing Company, the prime contractor for the U.S.-led project in which Russia is one of several partners.

Not only was the component completed satisfactorily, Boeing said from its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, but Khrunichev finished the work, paid for by Boeing, on schedule and on budget.

Khrunichev's success as a subcontractor to Boeing on the complex International Space Station project contrasts with the failure of the government-funded Russian Space Agency.

Earlier this month, the U.S. manager of the space station, Randy Brinkley, told reporters in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that Russia had fallen far behind in building a 12-meter "service module" needed to store crucial life-support equipment and fuel for the orbiting station.

Brinkley quoted Russian officials as saying completion of the module is now eight months behind schedule and blaming a lack of funds from the Russian government for that delay.

Boeing spokesman Elliot Pulham says that NASA and Russian Space Agency (RSA) officials are "intensively negotiating" to minimize or eliminate any delay, which he called "not acceptable" for the program's success.

"The service module is a Russian Space Agency contribution, and RSA is responsible for funding, building, and launching it," Pulham told RFE/RL.

Khrunichev, on the other hand, got money for the "Functional Cargo Block" it completed on time and on budget directly from Boeing. This is part of a $190 million contract signed in August 1995 between Khrunichev and Boeing. Pulham says that module is to be launched about a year from now when the assembly stage of the gigantic project gets under way in orbit around Earth. This unit will provide the station's initial power and guidance propulsion.

The 20-ton spacecraft is scheduled to be carried atop a Russian Proton launch vehicle next November from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Virginia Barnes, Boeing manager for the Functional Cargo Block program, says that is where the delayed RSA project fits into the overall space-station project. RSA is supposed to have the service module ready to be carried by a NASA space shuttle to connect to the orbiting cargo block and other components already in place.

NASA says the service module is scheduled for launch in April 1998. The first inhabitants of the space station -- two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut -- are to occupy the station a month later.

So timing is crucial, Boeing's Pulham concedes. But he quotes RSA as saying that, if it gets the needed funds soon, it can shave five months off the forecast eight-month delay. "That is well within our experience with RSA, which faced a similar situation on a Mir module called Piroda, and recovered ALL the schedule slip," Pulham says.

Meanwhile, "Business Week" magazine reports that NASA is considering "temporarily or permanently" substituting American equipment for Russian hardware because of RSA's lagging behind.

Without quoting its sources, however, Business Week concludes that "ending the alliance would add at least three years and billions of dollars to the project so NASA likely will help Russia as much as possible."