— The global financial crisis notwithstanding, 2009 is shaping up as a busy year for
‘s human spaceflight program, with four Soyuz TMA crew capsules scheduled to launch to the international space station along with six Progress cargo craft. At the same time, the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, is slated to broker another major consolidation of
‘s space industry and to take bids for a new cosmonaut-launching system.

The 10 space station missions will be among 39 Russian space launches planned for the year, according to Roskosmos Director-General Anatoly Perminov. “This is difficult but doable,” Perminov told reporters here Dec. 29, according to Roskosmos’ official Web site.

Perminov said the four scheduled Soyuz TMA flights would be the most
has carried out to the international space station in any given year. The six planned Progress missions also are more than usual; in past years that number has typically been four.

Russian cosmonauts are slated to conduct three spacewalks at the space station this year and install a small research module, known by its Russian acronym MIM-2, according to Alexander Poleshchuk, a senior official with Rocket Space Corporation Energia of Korolev,
‘s leading space station contractor.

Perminov said the global financial crisis, which has put a major crimp in
‘s oil-export revenue, will have an impact on many space projects but not the international space station. “Those international responsibilities, which
has assumed, including responsibilities we have before NASA, will be honored,” he said.

According to
will remain committed to the space station as planned at least until 2015. Whether the facility’s operations are extended another five years will be decided later this year by the international partners on the project, he said.

Alexander Zheleznyakov, a member of the Russian Academy of Space Exploration, said he expects space station operations to be extended well beyond 2020, perhaps all the way to 2030.

‘s Soyuz TMA capsules and the Soyuz rockets that launch them will become the sole means of transporting crews to and from the space station following the scheduled 2010 retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet. Russian industry is gearing up to submit proposals to Roskosmos this April to replace those vehicles. Likely bidders include Energia, State Rocket and Space Center Makeev Design Bureau of Miassy, TsSKB-Progress of Samara, and the Khrunichev State Research and Space Production Center of Moscow.

The new spaceship should be able to accommodate crews of four to six people; the Soyuz-TMA’s crew capacity is three. The new rocket would launch from a cosmodrome
plans to begin building in its far eastern Amur region in 2010, Perminov said.

Today Soyuz TMA capsules launch exclusively from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in
, a former Soviet republic. Sergei Ivanov,
‘s deputy prime minister, told reporters last year that the new cosmodrome in
Far East
is scheduled to begin human spaceflight operations in 2018.

The economic crisis has worsened considerably in recent months and
relies heavily on petrodollars to fund government activities. In an interview published Jan. 21 by the Russian government-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily and posted on the Roskosmos Web site, Perminov said he was hopeful the crisis would not affect plans for the new cosmodrome. “Everything is going in accordance with the plan,” he said.

But there are skeptics. Roald Z. Sagdeev, former director of
‘s Space Research Institute and currently a distinguished professor of physics at the
College Park
, characterized the plans outlined by Perminov as “wishful thinking,” noting that the government has been discussing the new capsule and cosmodrome for years but so far has committed little in the way of funding. He said
has tried without success to lure foreign investment in the new crew capsule, citing as an example a proposed joint effort with
that was recently abandoned.

Sagdeev predicted thatRussiaeventually will build a cosmodrome in the Far East for small-scale missions but expressed doubt that Moscowwould make the large investment necessary to establish a new cosmonaut-launching center. “I don’t think it can be done in the current climate,” he said Jan. 30. “I do not see it reflected in current plans and budgets.”

Meanwhile, Roskosmos during the first half of 2009 will submit to the federal government its proposal for consolidating the state-owned assets of
‘s space industry into a single corporation, Perminov said during the press conference. The corporation would assume control of all state-owned space enterprises, including Energia and the
. The Russian Defense Ministry is in the process of transferring control of this center to Roskosmos.

in 2006 carried out a similar consolidation of its satellite manufacturing industry.

Roskosmos press secretary Alexander Vorobyov could not be reached for comment Jan. 14, Jan. 15 or Jan. 29.

Warren Ferster contributed to this story from