A European Space Capsule?
EADS Astrium plans ahead
by Alan Breakstone
EADS Astrium, Europe's aerospace conglomerate, is once again toying with the possibility of building a European piloted spacecraft. Europe's rocket scientists have tried to interest their politicians in funding piloted space projects in the past, most notably the Hermes and Saenger spaceplanes. But as spending on these programs climbed, the politicians eventually balked at completing them.
Will European space enthusiasts have better luck this time? Possibly. The current proposal has recently been shown in notional mockup form at a Berlin airshow (see the Engadget
and BBC articles on the subject). Unlike Hermes and Saenger, this potential craft is a simpler space capsule instead of a spaceplane. And, also unlike the previous programs, much of the hardware already exists and has been space-tested.
The service module for the proposed spacecraft is based on the highly-successful Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) currently docked to the International Space Station ( ISS). The ATV is an expendable ISS cargo carrier. But in the EADS proposal, the expendable cargo hold is replaced with a recoverable capsule. So apparently, there is less risk in developing the ATV-derived craft than there was in engineering Hermes and Saenger from scratch.
The capsule seems roomy enough. It looks as if it can easily fit a crew of three. And the mockup shows state-of-the-art "glass cockpit" computer screens instead of the massive control panel that dominated the Apollo Command Module. Such a computer-based control panel is also being considered for NASA's Orion capsule.
The EADS proposal is clearly meant for the International Space Station. But would EADS also use it to deliver tourists, private "spaceflight participants" and cargo to a private space station such as the Bigelow Aerospace Sundancer? EADS has already indicated that it wants to get involved in the New Space scene with its suborbital Astrium Space Jet idea. An orbital craft would be the next logical step.