First-of its-kind accord opens the space station to users and individuals worldwide
London, England (17 February, 2000) – A new era of space commercialization began today with a private company's authorization to lease the Russian Mir manned space station to users and individuals worldwide.
The accord enables Amsterdam-based MirCorp to make Mir available for operations that are expected to range from space tourism and in-orbit advertising to industrial production and scientific experimentation.
This is the first time a manned orbital space station has been opened for true commercial activity outside of government funding.
The lease agreement was signed in London by Dr. Yuri P. Semenov, president and general designer of Russia's RSC Energia, and Jeffrey Manber, president of Mir Corp. RSC Energia is Russia's largest space systems manufacturer, and it built and operates the Mir station. MirCorp is the Holland-based company created to make Mir commercially available for international users.
"With this agreement, we begin a new phase of commercial space operations," Manber said. "The extraordinary Mir space station remains open for business, and we believe it will capture the attention of millions of people. Mir is one of the great wonders of humankind. "
The lease arrangement provides for continuation of the Mir's in-orbit life, subject to the availability of commercial funds. "RSC Energia is pleased to explore a new path in our efforts to attract commercial funds and business to the Mir space station," Dr. Semenov said.
MirCorp is the direct link between commercial users of Mir and the station's operators. The company 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.
MirCorp's shareholders include RSC Energia and venture capital firms. The lead investor today in MirCorp is the venture capital firm of Gold & Appel.
"Mir is too valuable a resource to be thrown away," Gold & Appel Chairman Walt Anderson said. "We will build on the proud heritage of Mir, enabling commercial support to keep the station alive."
Another key investor in MirCorp is telecom and Internet entrepreneur Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria. "The commercialization of space – specifically MirCorp – opens up tremendous opportunities in pharmaceutical/medical research, satellite repair, and eventually the beginnings of space colonization," Dr. Kathuria said. "We hope that when the history books are written, this event in the pioneering of space commercialization will have the same significance as the Wright Brothers' contribution to the of pioneering aviation."
MirCorp is expanding its management team as the company moves into the commercial operations phase. The newest member is Andrew Eddy, who will be responsible for MirCorp business development. Eddy previously was the Canadian Space Agency manager responsible for Canada's commercial participation in the International Space Station.
MirCorp funds Mir re-supply spacecraft and upcoming manned mission
As part of its commitment to Mir's future commercial use, MirCorp helped fund the launch of a Progress unmanned re-supply spacecraft to the space station earlier this month. The Progress M-1 cargo vehicle lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on February 1, and automatically docked with Mir two days later.
It marked the first such mission organized with the support of private funding, and Progress M-1 provided a supply of fuel and air that will be used to prepare Mir for an upcoming manned mission in March. The manned flight is to last 45 days beginning the end of March or beginning of April. It will also be funded in part by MirCorp.
Since entering service in 1986, Mir has been visited by more than 100 cosmonauts and astronauts from countries that include Russia, the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Austria, the United Kingdom, Syria, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Kazakhstan.
It an unparalleled orbital facility built over a decade through the assembly of individually launched modules. The massive multi-purpose platform offers more than 400 cubic meters of interior work area. The station is pressurized and temperature controlled, providing shirtsleeve working conditions for crewmembers on board.
The station was designed and developed by RSC Energia, which retains day-to-day operational control of the facility in orbit. RSC Energia is the world's oldest space company, having put the first satellite into orbit and performed the first manned space flight.
Today, RSC Energia retains a leadership role in Russian space, and is active in numerous international collaborative programs. The company has an industrial role in the Sea Launch and Proton commercial launch vehicles, and is the Russian prime contractor for the International space station.