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Europe to help finance new Russian spaceship

The head of the European Space Agency said on Friday he was confident he could win enough support from member states to help develop Russia's next generation spaceship.
The new Russian reusable spacecraft Klip
A mockup of the Clipper (Kliper) spacecraft is displayed at an August aerospace show near Moscow.Mladen Antonov / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

The head of the European Space Agency said on Friday he was confident he could win enough support from member states to help develop Russia's next-generation spaceship.

Russia hopes its reusable Clipper shuttle will be ready for test flights early next decade and would then gradually take over from the veteran Soyuz spaceship, which has been putting cosmonauts in orbit since the 1960s.

Earlier this week, ministers from European Space Agency countries failed to pledge money to the Clipper program, despite agreeing to spend more on other space research.  But ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain remains optimistic.  "I am convinced we can get wide support," he told reporters in Moscow after talks with Russia's Federal Space Agency.

Officials have said Russia can theoretically fund the Clipper — or, in Russian, Kliper — program by itself but would welcome international involvement to speed up the work.

"It is not a question of member states for and member states against.  I think the decision could not be taken for reasons that are not linked to Clipper itself.  The decision could not be taken because of budgetary restraints," Dordain added.

ESA would like to plow an initial $59 million into the project over the next two years, before deciding how much to be involved further down the line.

Dordain hoped a decision would be made by June next year, adding it was vital for Europe to have a stake in space transport if it wanted to be a player in future exploration.

The Clipper would be capable of taking six crew to the international space station, three more than the Soyuz.

At the moment Russia bears the responsibility for ferrying people and supplies to the $100 billion station after NASA grounded its shuttle fleet in July, having failed to fix a technical problem that killed seven astronauts in 2003.

Russia and Europe are already cooperating over the planned launch of Galileo satellites, a navigation system to rival the United States' Global Positioning System.

The first experimental Galileo satellite should be launched this month aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, rented by Russia from its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Satellite navigation helps everyone from round-the-world yachtsmen to the military pinpoint their exact position on Earth.