Europe is eying Russia's proposed crew-carrying Clipper spaceship, not only for use in International Space Station operations, but also to carve out their role in future Moon, Mars and beyond exploration.
The Russian Clipper would be a sporty replacement for the venerable Soyuz spacecraft and would feature abilities like those touted for NASA's drawing board vision of a Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV.
It is expected that a decision on Europe's future involvement in the Russian Clipper concept will be made this December at a European Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial Council meeting.
Russian space officials have explained that the still-to-be-built Clipper can carry six people: two pilots with the other four seats for astronauts or space tourists. The craft would be capable of hauling some 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of cargo.
In early statements, Russian space authorities have indicated that the Clipper could be in service in the 2010-2011 timeframe.
Clipper's launch vehicle would be a Russian Onega rocket - a modified version of the Soyuz carrier rocket and could head spaceward from European as well as Russian spaceports.
ESA Looks East for Future Cooperation
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped into a full-scale mockup of the Clipper spaceship at MAKS 2005, a Russian International Aviation and Space Salon, held August 16-21 in Zhukovsky, close to Moscow.
Putin was joined by the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov and the Director of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Launchers Program, Antonio Fabrizi. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also participated.
ESA's Fabrizi discussed with Putin future collaboration on projects such as Clipper, in which a number of ESA Member States, including Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and Spain have expressed interest.
The mockup of Russia's Clipper design has been making the rounds of late. It was showcased in June at the Paris Air Show.
The multi-use vehicle was part of Russia's Rosaviakosmos display at the Paris Air Show. Rosaviakosmos is Russia's Federal Space Agency, with the Clipper design a product of that country's Energia Rocket and Space Corporation.
Starting point studies
In July, Space News reporter, Peter de Selding, noted that the proposed Clipper vehicle could be the basis of a future crew-carrying vehicle that would provide an alternative to the U.S. Crew Exploration Vehicle, based on remarks from Daniel Sacotte, head of ESA's Human Spaceflight program.
Sacotte said that ESA will propose to its governments in December that they fund a series of design studies, in cooperation with Russia, using Clipper as a starting point.
"We are discussing this with Japan as well," Sacotte said. "What we want to do is to be in a position around 2007 or 2008 to ask our governments to fund a development program. If Clipper turns out to be credible, it could be based on that. Our starting point is that for an international space exploration program to depend on one craft is too risky."