The MirCorp orbital facility, currently named Mini Station 1, will accommodate three visitors for stays of up to 20 days at a time. It is to have a lifetime of more than 15 years, and will be serviced by both Soyuz manned transports and unmanned Progress cargo re-supply spacecraft. Start-up of commercial operations is expected in 2004.

Signing the agreement authorizing MirCorp's space station development were: Yuri Koptev, General Director of Rosaviakosmos, the Russian space agency; Yuri P. Semenov, President and General Designer of RSC Energia, the world's leading manufacturer of manned space structures, and Jeffrey Manber, President of MirCorp.

The accord is a blueprint for MirCorp's plans to fully develop the commercial exploration of space – a market it pioneered through the commercial lease of Russia's Mir space station in February 2000 and the signing of Dennis Tito to a commercial flight contract in June 2000. With the de-orbiting of Mir earlier this year, Tito was transferred to the International Space Station and became the first space tourist.

"MirCorp's Mini Station 1 agreement creates the first commercial space infrastructure – offering multiple flight opportunities under our control to a destination that will be fully supported by the private sector," MirCorp President Manber explained. "It is not enough to talk about sending people to space: you need an assured means of transport, and you need a destination where the commercial customer is the first priority – not a secondary concern. MirCorp will have all of this, at very accommodating environment."

The pioneering commercial orbital facility will be developed by Russia, pending government approval, using the country's more than 30 years of manned space station experience. The station will be based on proven technology developed by MirCorp's shareholder, RSC Energia, and its subcontractors.

Detailed definition of Mini Station 1 currently is underway.

MirCorp is holding extensive discussions with a range of commercial customers for its space station, and the company will work with NASA, the European Space Agency and the other International Space Station (ISS) space agency partners to send users to ISS until the mini-station is operational.

"MirCorp understands that the International Space Station is dedicated to world-class science and belongs to multiple governments," Gert Weyers, MirCorp senior vice president, explained. "We have shown there is a market for a different type of customer, whether a tourist, a commercial scientist, a filmmaker or anyone who is healthy and has a dream of space travel. MirCorp's mini-station answers this market need."

Under the planned scenario, MirCorp Soyuz manned transportation vehicles will visit both Mini Station 1 and the International Space Station. On a typical flight, the Soyuz would go first to Mini Station 1, where it will be docked for the two-week commercial mission. It then would fly to the ISS, where the Soyuz crew will transfer to the older Soyuz already docked to the international station. The crew would return in this Soyuz, leaving a newer spacecraft for the next space transportation cycle.

Manber said in this scenario, commercial activities would help the Russian Federation fulfill its commitment to support the International Space Station.

"We are very, very grateful of how hard everyone worked at Energia and Rosaviakosmos, including the personal involvement of Yuri Semenov and Yuri Koptev to reach a complex agreement that allows us to fully develop this commercial market and support ISS at the same time," Manber said. "This is a great agreement for ISS, its partners and everyone who dreams of flying to space."

According to a senior Russian official, Mini Station 1 does not require not require complex international, long-term coordination, as opposed to the ISS. This provides additional flexibility in responding to commercial customer requirements.

Manber added that MirCorp appreciates its supporters and investors, including the original Gold & Appel and Kathuria Holdings, who continue to believe in the company's long term potential and who have worked to bring about this agreement and continue to believe in the company's long term potential.

Jeffrey Lenorovitz of InfoWEST Group