MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin ordered his government Friday to speed up construction of a new cosmodrome and development of a booster rocket in a bid to revive the nation's space glory.
Russia's space agency chief, meanwhile, said the country may stop selling seats on its spacecraft to "tourists" starting in 2010 because of the planned expansion of the international space station's crew from the current three to six or even nine in 2010.
The development came a day before the 47th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's becoming the first man in space.
The Soviets also launched the first satellite — Sputnik — and the first woman in space, and carried out the first spacewalk.
But Russia's space industries fell on hard times after the 1991 Soviet collapse when once-generous state funding dried up.
They have survived mostly thanks to launches of foreign commercial satellites and revenue from so-called "space tourists" — wealthy private citizens who have bought trips to the International Space Station.
Russia's oil-driven economic boom has led to increases in government spending on the nation's space program in recent years, reducing the space agency's dependence on revenue generated by commercial flights.
Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov said the space station's expansion will mean that Russia will have fewer extra seats available for tourists on its Soyuz spacecraft, which are used to ferry crews to the station and back to Earth.
Since 2000, five wealthy private citizens have bought trips to the station.
"We will continue flying tourists to the international space station in accordance with the existing programs, but we may have problems with it starting from 2010 because of planned increase of the ISS' crew," Perminov said, according to Russian news reports.
Russia has launched all its manned missions — many involving U.S. and other foreign crew members — from the Soviet-built Baikonur cosmodrome, which it leases from neighboring Kazakhstan.
Putin ordered officials Friday to speed up construction of the Far Eastern Vostochny launch facility to make it capable of handling manned space launches.
He said the government would increase the space program's budget to make that possible.
"We must ensure Russia's guaranteed access to space, that is a capability to make all kind of space launches — satellites, manned spacecraft and interplanetary probes — from our own territory," Putin said during a meeting of the presidential Security Council, which discussed the nation's space strategy.
Putin said that money for the initial phase of construction on Vostochny, or Eastern, cosmodrome in the Amur region which borders China, would be allocated this year.
Perminov said after the meeting that the Vostochny launch pad will be built by 2015 and begin handling all manned space launches in 2020.
Putin on Friday also ordered space officials to speed up the development of the new heavylift Angara booster rocket and modernize and expand the nation's satellite fleet.