A manned spacecraft that would be launched in modular sections and docked together in space is one of the concepts being considered for the Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) the European Space Agency may develop with Russia.
The concept is part of the CSTS Phase A industrial study begun earlier this year, which will report in time for the agency's strategy-setting ministerial conference in 2008.
If the 2008 meeting approves further CSTS studies, ESA officials expect a Euro-Russian manned spacecraft to fly during the next decade - if it is an evolution of the Soyuz, another of the designs being considered.
A 2008 go-ahead could see additional international involvement. The possibility of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency contributing to the study was discussed at last month's Paris air show. "JAXA is asking to be a part," says ESA human spaceflight director Daniel Sacotte. "We are spending €18 million I don't expect JAXA to bring so much."
Over the past six months, Sacotte has been bringing together a European industrial team he describes as "something special" to carry out the CSTS work. He expects the first ESA-Russia meeting of substance, following the CSTS work done so far, in the next few weeks.
Soyuz manufacturer Energia is working on Russian concepts, but the company's leadership is undergoing change, with its president, Nikolai Sevastyanov, expected to step down.