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Europe aims at indigenous manned spaceship

An artist's impression of the Advanced Reentry Vehicle. -- Photo credit: ESA

PARIS (BNS): Taking the first step towards developing its own spaceship, the European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with the Germany-based EADS Astrium to carry out a feasibility study for such a craft.

The contract, signed on Tuesday by Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight, and Dr Michael Menking, Senior Vice-President and Head of Orbital Systems and Exploration at EADS Astrium, in the presence of ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and other higher officials, will also work out cost estimation for the manned spacecraft.

The idea to build the indigenous spaceship – Advanced Reentry Vehicle (ARV) – was mooted at ESA’s Ministerial Conference in November 2008.

The ARV would provide ESA with the means of undertaking complete space transportation missions, from launch to landing, using the International Space Station (ISS) as its initial destination. Launched on an Ariane 5, the ARV would have a forward section to return payloads to Earth. This concept could then be used as a basis for developing a crew return vehicle, the ESA said.

The reentry vehicle will be an improved version of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which is being used for logistics supply to the ISS. It will use the reentry technologies tested by the Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator.

At present, Europe relies on American and Russian spaceships to transport its astronauts to space.

Terming the signing of the contract as a clear sign of Europe’s commitment to play a greater role in global human spaceflight and exploration programmes, Di Pippo said, “We are building on our technological basis and achievements to position Europe in a more important role in this strategic field, leveraging on our industrial base and nurturing its highly skilled workforce. Today’s signature is the first step of a journey that will be very rewarding for Europe.”

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