The European Space Agency is pushing to have ready by March or April next year a firm concept for the joint western European, Russian Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) to be ready to present it to ESA member state ministers at their November 2008 meeting. If ministers approve a full development phase for the CSTS, a preliminary concept can be expected by mid-December, with accompanying imagery.
The CSTS is intended to provide International Space Station crew transport for four to six astronauts and possibly circumlunar flights a €15 million ($21.7 million), 15-month preparatory programme began in September to examine vehicle requirements, but will not consider a lunar lander.
"The preliminary concept will be the starting point for discussions about what CSTS partner produces what systems," says ESA's human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration directorate's head of policy and plans, Manuel Valls.
He added that Russia's Federal Space Agency is examining rockets to launch CSTS, but that a heavy launcher has been ruled out. The likely vehicle will be an evolved Soyuz or Proton or Ariane 5. Valls was aware of a Soyuz variant under consideration called Soyuz 3 that would put up to 12,000kg (26,400lb) into low Earth orbit. The Samara Space Centre Soyuz-FG rocket that launches the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia-built Soyuz TMA manned capsule can place 7,100kg into LEO.
Russia's CSTS prime contractor is Energia, while ESA's industrial team is referred to as the "European contractor". It is co-led by Franco-Italian joint venture Thales Alenia Space and EADS Astrium Germany, Bremen. It has subcontractors in the other CSTS participating ESA member states of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain.