Kliper dropped for lunar capsule

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By Rob Coppinger in London

Winged vehicle considered too risky to develop as ESA and FSA await funding approval for Moonship study

A four-crew lunar return capsule could be operational by 2014 if the European Space Agency and Russia’s Federal Space Agency (FSA) get a €30 million ($39 million) pledge from ESA member states next week.

The money is for ESA’s proposed two-year preparatory programme for the Advanced Crew Transportation System, which would start this month if the funding is approved.

The joint ESA/FSA transport system study would examine a Moonship consisting of capsule, service and habitation modules. The lunar return capsule would be based on the Russian Soyuz vehicle. The service and habitation modules could be developed from ESA’s International Space Station Columbus laboratory and its Automated Transfer Vehicle ISS resupply ship.

ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain will present the preparatory programme proposals at the 22 June member state council. “In mid-2008, when the preparatory phase ends, ESA’s ministerial council would have to approve funding for the full development and operational phase,” says Manuel Valls, head of the policy and plans department of ESA’s human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration programmes directorate.

moonship

In December Dordain presented to ministers a €30 million two-year preparatory plan for ESA involvement in the Russian Kliper concept. But only €6 million in backing was offered by member states for Kliper, a six crew mini-shuttle proposed by Russian space vehicle developer Energia.

ESA member states postponed a final decision on co-operation with Russia to June this year. In January a high-level ESA/FSA meeting renewed discussions on mission requirements for a transport system. From February to April European and Russian companies were involved in more detailed studies.

A programme level meeting in Moscow on 4 May, involving Valls, concluded a capsule transport system would be best. A winged vehicle was considered too risky in cost and development terms.

At a meeting at last month’s ILA Berlin air show, Dordain and FSA chief Anatoly Perminov agreed the capsule option.

ESA understands that capsule proposals have been submitted by Russian industry to FSA, which in early July is expected to select a capsule developer.