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Europe

Europe Keen to Join Russia in New Spaceship Project

The Russian plan to build a new spacecraft for manned missions has captured the attention of the European Space Agency. EU ministers, however, are yet to approve the expensive project.

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The European Space Agency is counting on Russian technology

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

Jean-Jacques Dordain

ESA Director Dordain is pushing for EU participation in the Russian project

"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 officials in Moscow.

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 last 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.

With or without Europe

Perminov previously said that Russia could push ahead with the Clipper project without European backing and mentioned China as a possible alternative partner.

Internationale Raumstation

The new Russian spacecraft could reach the International Space Station in 2010

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

They have said the craft could be launched as soon as 2010 and have estimated the cost of development at $1 billion dollars (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 utilization and the participation of European industries in the project," Dordain said.

Budgetary woes

Despite budgetary concerns voiced at last 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 AFP.

He added, however: "We needed the support from at least two states out of France, Italy and Germany. We didn't get it."

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.

Russian technology recognized

Startvorbereitungen

Russian Space Agency is still using the former Soviet space center in Baikonur, Kazakhstan

"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.

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