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Europeans jostle for CEVbid work

EADS joins Lockheed team competing to develop crew exploration vehicle, as Finmeccanica holds talks with Boeing

European companies are set to programme in the US space exploration programme as they join US teams bidding to develop the crew exploration vehicle (CEV). EADS Space Transportation has joined Lockheed Martin's CEV team, and Boeing has had talks with Italy's Finmeccanica about potential involvement in its bid.

EADS is offering technology from its Columbus module for the International Space Station and the rendezvous and docking system developed for the Automated Transfer Vehicle. Columbus would be the basis of the CEV's mission module. "Our common goal is to create the best proposal with the technology NASA needs. We have a full man-rated system in the Columbus module," says Stefan Graul, EADS's director of orbital infrastructure and operations and reusable systems.

Details of Finmeccanica's possible contribution are unavailable, but Boeing expects to announce its full team by the 1 May deadline for submitting CEV bids to NASA. As part of Boeing's team, Northrop Grumman is leading the initial CEV bid. Lockheed's team includes former Northrop teammate Orbital Sciences, Hamilton Sundstrand, Honeywell and United Space Alliance.

NASA, meanwhile, has abandoned plans for a "fly-off" in 2008 between competing CEV designs, the exploration programme's chief revealed last week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' first space exploration conference in Orlando, Florida.

The original plan called for two competing vehicles to be developed concurrently, with demonstration flights in 2008 to be followed by a downselect to one supplier and an uncrewed flight in 2011. The CEV's role is to take astronauts to low-Earth orbit by 2014 and to the Moon in 2015 at the earliest.

Instead, the agency expects contractors to build subsystem prototypes to demonstrate key technologies. "It is more at the component level. I can't imagine we'll launch into orbit," says Craig Steidle, associate administrator, exploration systems mission directorate.

ROB COPPINGER / ORLANDO

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