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    ISS partners, including Russia, agree to use orbiter until 2020

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    Russia and its International Space Station partners have an oral agreement to continue using the orbiter until 2020, the president of leading Russian spacecraft maker RSC Energia said on Thursday.

    MOSCOW, February 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and its International Space Station partners have an oral agreement to continue using the orbiter until 2020, the president of leading Russian spacecraft maker RSC Energia said on Thursday.

    "The ISS partners have not yet signed any documents, but verbally we have already settled the initiative [to extend the station's use]," Vitaly Lopota said at a news conference in Moscow.

    Russia's partners in the International Space Station program are the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency.

    Noting that in May the station's crew will be expanded from three to six astronauts, Lopota said Russia would not change the number of scheduled space flights because of the financial crisis. A record 39 space launches are planned for 2009, as opposed to last year's 27.

    "All of the launches that we planned for this year have been set," he said. "Everything that needs to be completed this year will be completed."

    The orbital assembly of the ISS began with the launch of the U.S.-funded and Russian-built Zarya module from Kazakhstan on November 20, 1998. Zarya, which means 'dawn,' was the ISS's first component. The United States earlier said the ISS should be scrapped in 2015.

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