Work could begin in the first week of September on the European Space Agency/Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA) crew transport system programme, once financial contributions and legal documents are agreed by ESA member states this month.
Around seven ESA member states are expected to contribute up to €15 million ($18.7 million) to the agency's 18-month programme, which has four work areas. These are an analysis of mission requirements that will include manned lunar flights; preliminary system design examining vehicle configuration; detailed subsystem design including the docking mechanism that may involve NASA; and the development of co-operation mechanisms and agreements and workshare decisions for a chosen vehicle's full-scale development.
"So in 18 months' time we will have got a proposal to make to our ministers for the development of such a vehicle," said ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain, at the Farnborough air show.
There is no assumption at ESA that the vehicle will be the Soyuz capsule. But neither is there any hope that the new mission requirements and system-level analysis will choose a Kliper-like winged vehicle. Kliper was rejected last December by ESA's ministerial council.