Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Privately-backed Mir mission spurs commercial plans
Posted: April 6, 2000

The Mir space station as seen from the Soyuz capsule just before docking this morning. Photo: RSA TV/Spaceflight Now
Today's arrival of two cosmonauts on Mir has boosted MirCorp's plan to commercialize the manned station, with new private funding commitments clearing the way for a second mission that will place the first Internet portal in space.

Cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kalery opened the hatch to Mir this morning after successfully docking their Soyuz transport spacecraft to the massive orbital station. They became the first crewmembers to board Mir since 1999, and the cosmonauts will reactivate the station for commercial operations.

Watch a QuickTime movie of today's docking.

"With the opening of Mir's hatch, a pathway was created to an exciting new era of business in space," MirCorp President Jeffrey Manber said.

MirCorp holds a lease agreement for commercial operation of the Russian-built and owned station. The company helped finance today's mission to Mir, which will see the cosmonauts remaining onboard the facility for more than 40 days.

Manber announced that MirCorp's investors have committed to the second round of funding, allowing another privately-backed manned flight to be launched to Mir in 2000. The new flight is targeted for the September timeframe, and will bring hardware to set up a space portal for Internet data content delivery.

"Our investors reaffirmed their commitment to Mir's commercialization with a substantial amount of money for the second round of financing," Manber said. "This commitment will allow the new manned mission later this year, which will include establishing the first ever Internet portal in space."

MirCorp investor Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria confirmed that he and MirCorp's lead investor -- the venture capital firm Gold & Appel -- have agreed to provide a second round of private funding.

"People have been talking about space exploration, commercialization and colonization for 40 years -- and MirCorp has been able to accomplish this in under three months since its creation," Kathuria said. "As a result, the current group of investors has now stepped up with additional capital to ensure that Mir stays in orbit and the renovation begins for true commercial activity."

Dr. Kathuria, who is an Internet and telecom entrepreneur, said the Internet portal is typical of commercial space business the company expects to develop over the near- and medium-term. The portal will carry data content as well as live images of the Earth from space. ³We have built successful Internet companies in Europe and Japan that have valuations in the billions of dollars, and we feel our first ever Internet space portal on Mir will have a high value as well,² he added.

The Russian space station Mir as seen by a U.S. space shuttle. Photo: NASA
According to Dr. Kathuria, MirCorp's management and investors will work to develop both traditional and non-traditional business activity for the company, with MirCorp going public in the third or fourth quarter of 2001.

"We expect short-term revenue to come from the positioning of Mir as a consumer product," he said. "MirCorp anticipates business will evolve from many areas, including the entertainment and media sector, foreign missions to the station, aerospace research projects, satellite assembly and repair, and industrial production."

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 signed a first-of-its kind commercial lease agreement for Mir in February with RSC Energia, the Russian space systems manufacturer that built and operates the space station. MirCorp is 60 percent owned by RSC Energia, while the remaining 40 percent held by its investors.

When the February agreement was signed, MirCorp said it would help finance the first manned mission to Mir since 1999, as well as the flight of an unmanned cargo supply craft that successfully docked to Mir in February. Russia would have been forced to allow the massive space station to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere had MirCorp not provided private financing to maintain it.

Andrew Eddy, MirCorp's senior vice president-business development, said the April 4 launch of the two Russian cosmonauts and their successful docking at Mir today represent crucial milestones for the company.

"Building a business case depends to a great extent on the public perception of Mir," he said. "Until now, the perception had been that Mir was a dying space station, ready to reenter the atmosphere and burn up. With today's docking the message is clear: We're open for business."

Eddy said significant interest is building within the space community for Mir's commercial use, and MirCorp also is actively seeking non-traditional customers. As part of this effort, MirCorp has signed an agreement with the William Morris Agency to identify mass media and entertainment merchandising opportunities for Mir.

Explore the Net
MirCorp - Company's Web site with details on commercial plans with Mir.

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