Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000
A new milestone in space commercialization occurs today as the world's first privately funded resupply cargo mission arrives at an active orbital station.
The unmanned Progress M1-2 spaceship will dock with Mir at 21h30 GMT, bringing two tons of fuel, oxygen, experiment hardware and supplies to the space station and its two-man cosmonaut crew.
Mir has been given a new life as a commercial orbital facility by MirCorp -- the private company that holds an exclusive lease for the Russian-built and owned station. Russia would have been forced to allow the massive space station to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere this year had MirCorp not provided private financing to maintain it.
``Today's Progress resupply mission to Mir is a truly commercial effort,'' MirCorp President Jeffrey Manber said. ``The flight was fully backed by MirCorp and its majority shareholder -- RSC Energia. No governmental funds were used.''
Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, a MirCorp director and investor, said MirCorp has successfully completed its second round financing and is scheduling another manned flight for the third quarter of this year. ``We soon will be bringing aerospace and entertainment/media companies into MirCorp as strategic partners,'' he added.
The Progress M1-2 spacecraft's docking today will be at a port located on the aft end of Mir. The station's cosmonauts will open the spacecraft's hatch shortly after its arrival.
Mir has been reactivated by Russian cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kalery, who boarded the station April 6. They have brought the facility's life support and power systems up to operational status, and repaired a small air leak originally discovered last year by the station's previous crew.
``We are extremely pleased by the work accomplished by Zalyotin and Kalery,'' Manber said. ``With Mir now ready to start commercial operations, we have made a firm decision to keep the station functioning for the long-term.''
Negotiations have begun with several potential customers for commercial activity on Mir, with international interest growing significantly since the cosmonauts' arrival on the station earlier this month.
Manber said MirCorp's short-term revenue will be generated from non-traditional uses of a space station, including media/entertainment packages and corporate sponsorships. MirCorp will place an Internet portal on Mir later this year, which will be linked to the company's Web site, www.mirstation.com .
The second wave of business is expected to come from the more traditional sector, including space-based research and in-orbit scientific experimentation. These users often are governments and institutes, which take more time to organize a space project.
``It is clear at that our original business model is correct,'' Manber said. ``The interest in Mir is real, and we're moving to sign up our first customers in the coming weeks.''
MirCorp has developed an affiliate program, in which companies with expertise in a specific market or geographical region will become sales representatives. ``We are in discussion with several companies and organizations for MirCorp affiliate status,'' Andrew Eddy, MirCorp's Senior Vice President-Business Development, said. ``Bringing them into the MirCorp family will extend our marketing reach even further.''
The Holland-based MirCorp was formed earlier this year to operate as a direct link between commercial users of Mir and the space station's Russian operators.
MirCorp acts as a facilitator, beginning with the establishment of business conditions for Mir's use, and continuing through successful completion of a user's activity on board the station. The company is 60% owned by RSC Energia, while the remaining 40% held by its investors.
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