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Russian Space Center Eyes Lockheed Stakes

The Khrunichev center, one of the country's leading space firms, may pick up the stakes Lockheed Martin is selling in two ventures with the Russian firm, the Federal Space Agency said Friday.

Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense company, said Thursday that, by year's end, it would sell its stake in Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International, or LKEI, and International Launch Services, or ILS, the two ventures it set up with Russian firms in the early 1990s to make and market Russian-made Proton and Angara rockets.

Lockheed is selling its stake to Space Transport, a closely held firm, but Khrunichev may eventually end up owning it, space agency spokesman Igor Panarin said Friday.

"The Russian side is ready to increase its ... presence in the joint venture," Panarin said by telephone. He said he could not say more before Lockheed signed off on the deal, which is expected to happen in the fourth quarter of this year.

Krunichev spokesman Alexander Bobrenyov said Friday that the firm was ready to buy the stake.

The interest comes amid efforts by the government to restructure and boost the country's space industry.

Lockheed holds 51 percent in LKEI, which was founded with Khrunichev and state-owned space construction firm Energia in 1993. In 1995, Lockheed and LKEI set up ILS, in which the two partners have equal stakes.

Space Transport, headed by Mario Lemme, a longtime consultant for Lockheed, denied on Friday that it would be selling the stake.

"Space Transport is not a temporary owner of ILS," said Susan Thurman, a spokeswoman for Lemme, in an e-mailed statement Friday.

"Our goal as an investor and owner in ILS is to ensure that it continues to make available to commercial clients one of the most sophisticated, reliable and cost-effective satellite launch systems in the world," said Thurman, who is president of PBN Company, a public relations firm.

Registered in the British Virgin Islands, Space Transport was created specifically for the transaction and will be headquartered in Moscow, Thurman said by telephone from Washington. Lemme has been on the LKEI board for the past three years.

Kommersant on Friday cited a space industry source as saying Space Transport would only be a temporary owner and Khrunichev would later secure a loan from state-run Vneshtorgbank to buy the stake for $150 million.

The paper also said Lockheed was withdrawing because the Russian partners wanted to raise prices for Proton rockets by 15 percent and the U.S. firm would lose money as a result. The Russian companies also want to work with ILS through a Russian intermediary, Kommersant said.

Bobrenyov said Khrunichev was indeed going to raise prices but that the raise would be in line with the current market trend of an increase in energy and metals prices. He declined to say how much the stake would be worth but said the $150 million figure was "not quite correct."

Panarin, the spokesman for the Federal Space Agency, said the Kommersant report was "largely objective."

Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky said his firm was withdrawing to focus on space programs run by the U.S. government. He said he was not aware of any misunderstanding between the partners.

Lockheed will compete with ILS, which is expected to continue operations from a suburb of Washington, he said.

John Edwards, a space systems analyst with consultancy Forecast International, said it was the "perfect time" for Khrunichev to go it alone as "they know how to run the business by now."

But he urged the firm to speed up the development of the Angara rocket, and said the Proton was currently too expensive.

Proton rockets cost an average of $90 million.

Forecast International estimates the space launch market between 2006 and 2015 to be worth about $45 billion.

(The Moscow Times 11.ix.06)

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