Russia Readies A Space Plane

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Little twins may be fine for flying around Planet Earth, but to get to the International Space Station, you need something beefier. The Russians have been working for a while on a next-generation rocket-launched Space Shuttle called Clipper, and are hoping to get a funding boost from the European Space Agency in 2006 to move the project forward. The ESA's 17 member states considered the proposal at a meeting in December. They didn't come up with a firm commitment, but they didn't nix the idea either. The leader of the ESA, Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, told DW-World he will "make all the efforts I can in the next few months to secure wide participation for Clipper." Dordain said he hopes to win approval for the project by June. The Russians have been working on the concept since 2000, and have built a full-scale mock-up of the ship, which they exhibited at last year's Paris Air Show. The latest version of the plan would comprise a two-part spacecraft that would launch atop a modified Soyuz rocket. An orbital tug would be launched first, then a manned capsule would dock with it in orbit and travel to the space station. Then the capsule could glide back to Earth and land on a runway, and the tug would be parked in orbit until the next launch. The ship could be used for space tourism as well as ISS support. If financial support is forthcoming, the ship could fly as soon as 2011. The entire program is projected to cost about $1 billion.