Apollo-like capsule chosen for Crew Space Transportation System

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In a departure from previous spherical Russian capsule designs, a conical manned capsule with a service module has been selected for the European Space Agency and Russia's Federal Space Agency (FSA) joint programme Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS).

With a maiden test flight expected in 2015 and the first manned mission scheduled for 2018, both from Russia's planned Vostochny spaceport, the CSTS would carry six astronauts to low-Earth orbit or four to the Moon like NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle, the design is a conical capsule and service module.

Under the agreement reached on 15 April by ESA and FSA, both organisations will engage in joint systems engineering tasks while ESA's industrial consortium will develop the service module and Russia's Rocket and Space Corporation Energia will be the capsule's prime contractor and oversee service module-capsule integration. The service module will be derived from ESA's International Space Station cargo spacecraft, the Automated Transfer Vehicle.

The FSA describes the CSTS launcher as having a baseline payload capability of 18,000kg (39,600lb). However, the capsule and service module combined mass may not be that much, says Manuel Valls, ESA's CSTS programme manager and head of policy for the agency's human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration directorate. He told Flight International: "The Russian rocket is not part of the co-operation agreement."

Valls says the CSTS will be designed to be compatible with Russia's and ESA's spaceports and he does not rule out, in the long term, the vehicle being launched on a man-rated EADS Astrium Ariane 5. Despite rumours of a cargo variant CSTS, Valls says there is only a crew version for the time being.

An intermediate system concept for the crewed CSTS will be discussed by ESA and the FSA in June and a technical and programmatic report will be finalised in October. The agency's leadership will present to its ministerial November conference the report's proposal for the member states to fund the development of the ATV-derived service module and related activities for its integration with the capsule and launcher.