May 14, 2008

Europe Plans First Manned Spacecraft by 2017

European firm EADS has announced that plans may be in the works to launch its own independent manned spacecraft.

News of the plans came on Tuesday in Bremen, Germany. More information is expected to come later this month during the Berlin Air Show.

EADS Astrium and the German Space Agency (DLR) have discussed ideas of manning their own craft, with plans to complete the project by 2017.

ESA's Jean-Jaques Dordain has made it clear that he hopes to see an independent system, and NASA chief Mike Griffin has recommended that Europe should build its own carrier.

Europe has had its own human space transportation system. Instead it has always relied on the Americans and Russians to send its astronauts into space.

Plans have been discussed to use Europe's new space station freighter called the Automated Transfer Vehicle, which could carry three people, although it was not designed with that purpose in mind.

The ATV is full of new technologies, including a pressurized section that is "human rated" in the sense that, once docked to the 340km-high station, astronauts can move around inside it safely in just T-shirts.

However, some key issues remain to be addressed before the ATV can carry humans.

First of all, because the craft was not designed to take humans into space, a new capsule will have to be designed for use instead of with cargo.

Also, the ATV was not designed to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere intact. So, scientists would have to design a new heat shield to keep the craft together while returning to Earth.

Astrium senior executive Evert Dudok and DLR boss Johann-Dietrich Worner said that the concept could be achieved without spending too much money.

Their plan is to send an unmanned ATV into space for testing by 2013, followed by the first manned flight four or five years later.

The current ATV is launched atop an Ariane 5, the rocket which at one stage was going to loft Europe's mini-shuttle known as Hermes until the spaceship project was cancelled in the 1990s.


On the Net:

EADS Astrium

German Aerospace Center (DLR)