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ESA to develop cargo-lander space podule
UK's Major Tim may not be space hitchhiker forever
The European Space Agency (ESA) is to build a space capsule capable of bringing cargoes down safely from orbit as well as taking them up, according to reports. A development of the current "Jules Verne" unmanned cargo module used to supply the International Space Station, the planned Advanced Reentry Vehicle (ARV) could lead in turn to an ESA manned launch capability.
Aerospace Daily and Defense Report reports that a €21m deal was inked this week by the ESA with continental aerospace globocorp European Aeronautics Defence and Space (EADS). The EADS space arm, Astrium, will develop the ARV on a timescale that could see first flight as soon as 2016. The ARV would be launched on an Ariane V heavy-lift rocket like the Jules Verne, but after undocking from the space station it would be able to re-enter with contents intact rather than being purposely burnt up on re-entry.
Once the US space shuttle fleet ceases flying in 2010, the only craft capable of bringing cargo down from the station will be Russian Soyuz modules. The ARV would offer planners another option in the latter half of the next decade, though there is no certainty of the ISS (or any other manned orbital facility) remaining in operation past 2020.
The ARV could also be upgraded to carry astronauts. It could then be launched on a future, man-rated version of the Ariane V and so offer the ESA an independent manned spaceflight capability, something the agency has never had. This would mean that the agency's astronauts, now including former British Army major Tim Peake, would no longer have to hitch rides on US or Russian ships.
Some in Europe see even further down this path, suggesting that Ariane V and ARV could be the building blocks for ESA missions to the Moon and beyond.
AD&DR quotes Alain Charmeau of EADS Astrium as saying that "ARV will show Europe's ability to land on the Earth, the moon and Mars".
However, the partly-European space agency* is also looking into collaboration with Russia on the next generation of manned spacecraft. ®
*ESA's list of member states is not the same as that of the European Union - Canada, for example, is an ESA state - and while the space agency works closely with the Brussels government it is not officially an arm of the EU.