The European Space Agency has begun hammering out strategies for working with an industrial consortium from member states on the joint Russia-ESA Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS).
Aiming to begin International Space Station (ISS) operations in 2012-14, with a circumlunar mission by 2016, ESA is conducting an initial 15-month, €16 million ($20.7 million) study to examine vehicle requirements. The study will not include a lunar lander.
The study will also determine which companies and nations will develop which vehicle elements. Results will be presented at the 2008 ESA ministerial conference for approval of further work.
ESA agreed in November to take part in the CSTS with Russia's Federal Space Agency (FSA). Of the seven ESA states involved, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are the largest contributors, with Denmark and the Netherlands contributing the remaining funds.
ESA's industrial consortium will be made up by Alcatel Alenia Space, Astrium's French and German companies and various businesses from the other member states, says Manuel Valls, head of policy and plans for ESA's human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration programmes directorate.
FSA's industrial prime is Soyuz crew vehicle manufacturer Energia, but Soyuz will not automatically be considered the vehicle of choice for the moonship.