Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The "Kliper" ship

The Russian Energia Corporation today unveiled a mock up of their potential successor to the venerable Soyuz capsule. The reusable Kliper could deliver cargo, or a crew of six, to orbit and the International Space Station where it could remain docked for up to a year.

The new spacecraft is a lifting body where the body of the craft itself produces the lifting force during reentry into the atmosphere. Unlike a traditional reentry capsules, such as Soyuz, which are limited to a narrow landing corridors along the ground track of their final orbit, the new craft would have significant sideways maneouvering capability.

CREDIT: Channel One TV
The Kliper's unveiling attracted a lot of attention in the Russian media, including television coverage and several articles [1, 2] on various Russian news sites. I'd guess that the vehicle in the background, behind the Kliper mock up, is the Buran OK-KS test vehicle. OK-KS was used for static electrical and integration tests, it never flew, and was not flight capable.

Despite being much more capable the new spacecraft is expected to cost less per launch than Soyuz which itself costs less than a tenth as much, at around $30 million, as space shuttle launch.

While there has been considerable coverage [1, 2, 3] in the Russian media, there has as yet been very little in the Western press. However MSNBC has now published a good article about the new spacecraft, so you don't have to get your Russian dictionaries out quite yet.

However as this MSNBC article points out there are significant problems standing between todays mockup and an actual launch vehicle, and like most things in Russia today, the first is money. A production vehicle, currently scheduled for test flights by 2010, seems to be well beyond the meager funding levels currently allocated by the Russian government.

However, in the long term, this might turn out to be the least of Energia's problems. The new spacecraft was designed to be launched using the Ukranian made Zenit booster. Considering the current political troubles in the Ukraine, which could easily spiral out of control, relying on a Ukrainian built booster to lift the new spacecraft may be unacceptable to both the Russians and the west.