updated 10/26/2005 6:08:19 PM ET 2005-10-26T22:08:19

The Russian Cabinet on Tuesday approved a nine-year government program to expand its space programs, backing the ongoing development of the new Clipper spacecraft as well as building Russia's segment of the international space station.

In its statement, the Federal Space Agency did not say how much funding the programs would receive.

But it said the government plans include a new project called the Phobos-Grunt, which will be sent to the Martian moon of Phobos to collect soil samples. By the end of 2006, the space agency will begin work on preparations for a manned trip to Mars.

The new Clipper spacecraft, currently under development, is planned to be able to carry a crew of six compared to three crew members on the Soyuz ships — Russia's longstanding workhorse space craft. Engineers say the Clipper will have a takeoff weight of 16 tons, will be reusable and capable of making up to 25 flights.

Russia also expects to increase the number of commercial satellite launches, the agency statement said.

In recent months, however, Russia has experienced several embarrassing crashes and mishaps involving its space program.

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