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Russia planning new space mission

Russia will test a next-generation spacecraft, build a new launch site and even consider a manned mission to Mars, the nation's space chief has promised.

But Anatoly Perminov admitted Russian spacecraft still depend on imported electronics, speaking a day after the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

"We have to acknowledge that imported components account for 65-70% of electronics in the spacecraft launched last year and those set to be launched this year," he said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week vowed that space will remain a key government priority, but sceptics said the nation has done virtually nothing to develop a successor to the 43-year-old Soyuz spaceship.

Russia has used the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, whose designs date back to the 1960s, to send an increasing number of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. They will become the sole link to the space outpost after the US space shuttle Atlantis closes out the US programme this summer.

Some cosmonauts warned, however, that while Russia stands to reap short-term benefits from its monopoly in ferrying crews and supplies to the space station, it could quickly fall behind America after the US builds a new-generation Orion spaceship.

Russian officials have set a tentative launch of a new spacecraft to replace Soyuz for 2015, but cosmonauts and industry watchers have said its development has barely begun.

Mr Perminov said Russia will need to make at least 15 successful unmanned launches of the new craft, named Rus, before it can carry crew into orbit.

He also said Russia will this year start building a new launch pad in Russia's Far East, called Vostochny. Officials have said the first launches from Vostochny are expected in 2015.

Russia is now using the Soviet-built Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for all its manned space flights and a large share of its satellite launches. Russia has a lease on Baikonur until 2050.

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