The Soviet Union on Thursday declared its readiness to launch "peaceful" foreign satellites aboard its rockets and urged the United Nations to form a group to oversee international space projects and ensure peace in the heavens.
The Soviet declaration of willingness to carry satellites from other nations into space is a further indication that the Kremlin is preparing to open a commercial space program in the wake of the recent failures of the U.S. space shuttle and the European Space Agency's Ariane programs.
"The Soviet Union declares its readiness to exchange its accomplishments in outer space, to launch peaceful space vehicles of other countries and international organizations with Soviet carrier rockets on mutually acceptable terms," Soviet Premier Nikolai I. Ryzkhov said in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar in New York.
Ryzkhov did not explain what was meant by "mutually acceptable terms" and the declaration was buried midway through the letter made public Thursday--the same day two new Soviet research satellites, Cosmos 1757 and Cosmos 1758 were successfully launched.
In the same letter, the Soviets called for a World Space Organization that would oversee joint international projects in space and police the heavens to ensure their peaceful use.
The Soviets have opposed the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars," a space-based anti-missile defense program.
The U.S. space shuttle program has been put on hold in the wake of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger earlier this year. The European Space Agency's Ariane program, which was in direct commercial competition with the U.S. program, was delayed after a rocket carrying $55 million worth of satellites was destroyed 36 seconds after takeoff from French Guiana on May 30.
Western diplomats say the Soviet Union has shown increasing public confidence in its space program following the American and European failures, noting Soviet television recently showed its first live broadcasts of a manned space launching and space walks by cosmonauts.
The Soviets have previously indicated they would be willing to launch foreign satellites for a fee. China, which has a fledging space program, has made a similar offer of carrying satellites on its rockets for pay.
In addition to its experience in rocket launches, the Soviet Union announced in December, 1984, that it was experimenting with a reusable space vehicle somewhat like the shuttle.
The successfully tested Soviet shuttle called Cosmos 1614 was, however, only a one-third scale model spaceplane. The test craft landed in the Black Sea rather than on land, according to British space experts.
Soviet scientists have said they hope to have a functioning shuttle by the early 1990s.