A decision to extend the life of International Space Station (ISS) till 2020 may be made by the middle of next year, said Alexei Krasnov, a top official of Russia's Federal Space Agency.
"Chiefs of space agencies of ISS partners will convene this November to discuss the possibility to extend the ISS life to 2020," he said.
If the partners okey the project, it will take national governments some more time to approve further funding.
The inter-governmental agreement on the ISS limits the station life span to 2015, but this limit is purely technical, Krasnov said. "This limit results from technical capacities of certain units and modules of the station," he said.
However, Americans are actively extending the service life of the ISS first unit - the Zarya module - whose service life is limited to 2013, he noted.
The European and Japanese space agencies intensified their participation in the ISS project only recently, after the addition of Columbus and Kibo modules to the station. Both agencies have big plans for fundamental and applied studies in space.
As for the Russian segment of the ISS, it will be enlarged with three modules before 2012. The existent Zvezda, Zarya and Pirs will be supplemented with three research modules - MIM2, MIM1 and MLM (multifunctional laboratory module).
The heavy multifunctional laboratory module MLM will be brought to orbit in 2011 and enlarge the programme of Russian experiments inside and outside the ISS.