updated 10/24/2008 6:34:03 PM ET 2008-10-24T22:34:03

The financial crisis could jeopardize the ability of Russia's top spacecraft-making company to build spaceships for the international space station, the head of the state-controlled company said Friday.

RKK Energiya has failed to receive vital government-backed loans from commercial banks, Vitaly Lopota said at a news conference.

He said that, unless the government provides the money quickly, construction of new Soyuz and Progress spacecraft could be delayed. The craft are used to ferry crew and cargo to the space station, and will serve as the only link to the station after the U.S. retires its space shuttle fleet in 2010.

"If we fail to get loans or an advance payment from the government in the next two or three weeks, we won't take responsibility for making the spacecraft," Lopota said at a news conference. "This is a serious problem."

Lopota said next year's space missions are not threatened, but that the lack of financing could threaten operations beyond 2009 given the long production cycle. It takes 2 1/2 years to build a Soyuz or a Progress, he said.

Russia's Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov sought to downplay the issue, saying the government would make sure it does not derail the planned space missions. "We will solve the problem," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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