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New Generation Crewed

New Generation

New Generation
Manned Spacecraft
Credit: © Mark Wade

The world is facing a minimum five year period, beginning in 2011, when the venerable Russian Soyuz spacecraft will provide the only means of ferrying crews to the International Space Station. America's new Orion spacecraft, beset by delays, is unlikely to be arriving at the ISS until 2018 at the earliest - which was NASA's original date for retirement of the ISS. China has its slow-motion Shenzhou manned program, but so far they have shown no interest in involvement in the ISS program, or in sharing their hard-won independent space technology with outsiders.

Seeing this gap, the other world space powers are studying ensuring their own manned access to space. Europe has studied creating its own manned spacecraft by adding a re-entry capsule to its ATV logistics vehicle. The United States has not funded development of a manned version of the Dragon ISS resupply vehicle. India is proposing to develop its own Gemini-sized manned spacecraft. Russia has been studying replacements for the Soyuz since the cancellation of the MAKS and Zarya when the Soviet Union collapsed. Various Soyuz replacement plans have been proposed and rejected: Restarting the TKS production line at Khrunichev; resurrection of the Zarya as the Big Soyuz, and Energia's Kliper design. The Russian Space Agency now favors a new conical capsule proposed by Khrunichev, the PK-NO. But money is still lacking for its development. Russia and Europe have been pursuing joint development for years, but Russia's latest conditions - their PK design must be used, and the spacecraft must be launched from their new planned cosmodrome at Vostochniy - are unlikely to be accepted. Although dates in the 2016 to 2018 range are mentioned for all of these vehicles, none are likely to fly before 2020, if ever.

So is the ISS the end of manned spaceflight? It seems unlikely, if only because entrenched space industrial-bureaucratic complexes will continue to be funded at a level within the bureaucratic background noise. Most likely Orion, Shenzhou and Soyuz will be ferrying crews to earth orbit in 2020. The ISS may prove to be unmaintainable, and broken up or replaced by modest national or bilateral stations (Europe's Mini-Space Station, Russia's MMK-5 (see PK), a derivative of Japan's HTV, China's Space Laboratory). But a return to stations on the scale of Mir or ISS, let alone any manned voyages to the moon or Mars, seems unlikely.


Shenzhou Chinese manned spacecraft. The Chinese Shenzhou manned spacecraft resembled the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but was of larger size and all-new construction.

Kliper Russian manned spaceplane. Study 2004. The Kliper manned spacecraft replacement for Soyuz was first announced at a Moscow news conference on 17 February 2004.

Orbital Vehicle Indian manned spacecraft. Design of an Indian manned spacecraft began in October 2006. Dependent on a full funding decision at the end of 2008, planned first flight of the two-man capsule atop a GSLV-II booster was 2015. This initial design was succeeded by a much larger design to be lofted by the GSLV-III launch vehicle.

Orion American manned spacecraft. In development. NASA's Crew Excursion Vehicle for the 21st Century. Built by Lockheed Martin.

Big Soyuz Russian manned spacecraft. Study 2008. This enlarged version of the Soyuz reentry vehicle shape was one alternative studied for the next-generation Russian launch vehicle.

CTV European manned spacecraft. Study 2008. Proposed European manned spacecraft to shuttle crews to the International Space Station from 2018.

PK spacecraft Russian manned spacecraft. Study 2008. This conical, six-crew space capsule represented the Russian Space Agency's preferred design to support Russian spaceflight in the 2018-2068 period.

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