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NASA buys in $719m worth of Russian space support

Extra flights and cargo shifting

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NASA has signed for $719m worth of extras on its contract with Russian space authorities for "crew and cargo services" until 2011.

The modified contract now buys NASA a two-way "flight opportunity" to the International Space Station (ISS). This, the agency says, will allow it to meet its obligations to its international partners. The flight will carry an astronaut from one of the international partners to and from the space station for a six month visit in 2009.

The deal includes an extra 15 crew rotations, and delivery and removal of 5.6 tonnes of cargo. It also covers the delivery of a cargo module containing 1.4 tonnes of NASA kit to the ISS in 2010.

NASA has a lot to do if it is to finish its construction work on the ISS before the fleet is retired in 2010, and although the agency has not said as much in its announcements, the deal takes the pressure off the now rather elderly Shuttle fleet.

The work was substantially delayed by the loss of Columbia, and the difficulties of ensuring the safety of the craft for the return to flight. Although the launches are back on track, with night launches being sanctioned once again, another window was missed last month after a heavy storm caused significant hail damage to the Shuttle as it waited on the launchpad. ®

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