Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA) could be working together to develop the Kliper (Clipper) space shuttle.
It’s all but official�Russia and Europe will soon embark on a cooperative effort to build a next-generation manned space shuttle. Speaking at the Paris Air Show, in Le Bourget, France, in June, Russian space officials confirmed earlier reports from Moscow that their partners at the European Space Agency would join the Russian effort to build a new reusable orbiter, dubbed Kliper. After the cautious optimism they expressed at the beginning of 2005, Russians are now confident that their European partners will be on board for the largest, boldest Russian endeavor in spaceflight in more than a decade.[…] Co-operation with Europe promises to give Russia unprecedented flexibility in its access to orbit. Bound by its geographic position, historically Russia has paid a heavy penalty in payload weight for launching its spacecraft from such sites as Baikonur or Plesetsk, both far from the equator. Today, RKK is seriously considering either launching Kliper on top of the existing Zenit rocket from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean or on upgrading the Soyuz rocket, which could fly from the equatorial site in Kourou, French Guiana.
The space geek in me thinks that this could be great news – especially at a time when NASA’s troubled space shuttle program seems to be holding back development in the US. The Kliper (see here for a Wikipedia article about it) isn’t a comparable craft to the Shuttle in many ways, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
The Russian Space Agency seems to have a good eye for collaborative partnerships, and also for the exploitation of the business aspect of space travel, so I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see the Russian Space Agency also begin forging ties with some of the private companies that are beginning to make their first forays into space-travel. A partnership with Scaled Composites, for example, who were the company behind Spaceship One, the first private craft to reach space (and make it back down to earth), would open up a wealth of possibilities. When you consider the RSA’s ingenuity, their ability to bring in projects cheaply and far closer to budget than NASA, and their wealth of cheap, but highly skilled scientists and technicians, private companies may find it far more profitable to work with Russia than with anyone else in the space industry.[Hat tip: A Fistful of Euros]