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Russia and Europe tout new space plane

The start of the post-Shuttle era?

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Russia and Europe are in talks to build a new a space plane that will fly missions to the International Space Station once Shuttle's final flight is over in 2010.

The new plane would have a lot of new ideas in its design, explains RKK Energuya engineer Vladimir Daneev. "Since the construction of the Shuttle and Buran, a lot of new materials have been found and new technologies have appeared," he said. "We will use all this Russian know-how in the new spacecraft, and we are eager to incorporate a maximum of European technology in the design."

Artists' impression of the Kliper spacecraft in orbit

The three-module vehicle would be capable of transporting six astronauts and 500kg of cargo, or two astronauts and 700kg of supplies. It would be capable of landing on a runway, or with a parachute, according to a EuroNews report.

Since Shuttle's grounding in 2003, the Russian Soyuz capsule has been the only way to service the ISS, bringing supplies and rotating crew. As well as the capsule has done its job, without Shuttle, the station will never be complete. Soyuz is not big enough to bring up the last pieces of the orbiting habitat, including Europe's Columbus module.

But Shuttle is scheduled to stop flying altogether in 2010, and the space station will be in use long after that. NASA is not alone in planning for a post-Shuttle era, and the Russians are keen to move on from the 1960's (now, undoubtedly retro) 'Model-T' Soyuz capsule, and book their place in the future of space exploration.

Frank de Winne, a Belgian ESA astronaut, says that the Soyuz concept is getting rather old. "It is also getting rather difficult to produce this type of spacecraft. The Americans are examining a new system of manned space transport, called the Crew Exploration Vehicle; and there is the Russian Kliper project, in which Europe is particularly interested," he concluded. ®

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