Europe eyes joining Russia spaceship

European Space Agency (ESA) officials have said that European countries remained interested in a Russian plan to build a new crew-carrying spaceship known as the Clipper.

    Russia is eager to update its spacecraft capabilities

    "I shall make all the efforts I can in the next few months to secure wide participation for Clipper among member states," ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said after meeting Russian space agency (RSA) officials in Moscow on Friday.
    Dordain said he would push the project to be approved before June 2006 by the 17-member ESA, which backed off a decision on approval at a ministerial meeting in Berlin earlier this week.
    "A final decision has not been taken but neither has a negative decision. This is very important for us," Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's federal space agency, said.
    Chinese interest?

    Earlier this week, Perminov said Russia could push ahead with the Clipper project without European backing and mentioned China as a possible alternative partner.

    Russian scientists envisage that the Clipper would weigh 14.5 tonnes and would carry up to six people on voyages to the
    International Space Station (ISS) or on interplanetary trips. 


    "I shall make all the efforts I can in the next few months to secure participation for Clipper [proposed Russian spaceship] among member states"

    Jean-Jacques Dordain, 
    ESA Director General

    They have said the craft could be launched as soon as 2010 and have estimated the cost of development at $1 billion (845 million euros).
    "Before the final decision is taken we will work together, we will come up with an action plan for the concept and utilisation and the participation of European industries in the project," Dordain said.
    European finance

    Despite budgetary concerns voiced at this week's Berlin meeting, European financing would go ahead, Daniel Sacotte, the ESA's director of human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration, said.
    "The Russians are not going to finance it, we will finance it from our side," Sacotte told reporters.
    He added however: "We needed the support from at least two states out of France, Italy and Germany. We didn't get it."

    The ESA and the RSA plan to 
     work on further projects

    Also Friday, the ESA director general said Russia's Soyuz space rockets, currently the only vehicles used for reaching the ISS, had the full backing of the European agency.

    "Based on performance," the ESA "has decided to consider Soyuz as a full member of the family of launchers for ESA missions," alongside Ariane and Vega rockets, Dordain said.
    Russian lift

    A Soyuz rocket will be used for the first launch in Europe's Galileo satellite navigation project from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome on 26 December, Dordoin said.

    The ESA also foresees use of Soyuz rockets for a planned mission to Mars, he added.
    The Soyuz, a Soviet-designed work horse, became the only means of taking personnel to and from the ISS after the grounding of the US space shuttle fleet in August following a mishap on the latest mission similar to that which doomed the Columbia orbiter in 2003.   



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