“With NASA’s beleaguered shuttle still grounded over safety concernsâ€”and given the unanswered questions about its replacement, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which won’t be ready to fly until 2012â€”the European Space Agency is mulling an option to buy its own ride to space. This month ESA plans to request $60 million from its member states to help Russia prepare its new, reusable spaceship, the Clipper, for a crewless test flight by 2011 and a manned flight by 2012.
“The six-person Clipper is designed to replace Russia’s three-person Soyuz capsule, which has been in operation since the 1960s and is currently the only reliable transport to the International Space Station. Lighter than NASA’s shuttle and more powerful than the Soyuz, the Clipper will be more than just a taxi to the ISS. Notes ESA official Manuel Valls, ‘It could go to the moon.’
“The Russian Federal Space Agency showed off a full-scale mock-up of the craft at the Moscow International Air Show in August. If all goes wellâ€”that is, if ESA ponies up fundingâ€”design studies of the Clipper could begin in early 2006.”