Like NASA, the European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies will continue to rely on Russia's Soyuz vehicle for access to their facilities on the ISS until a U.S. commercial crew vehicle is available. Canada and Japan have no orbital spaceflight vehicles in development, but Europe may find its hardware helping to send humans to orbit and beyond someday.
One of ATK's selling points for the Liberty launch system is the human rating on its heritage components, including the Ariane V. Although the big European rocket has never flown humans, it was designed to fly the planned Hermes spaceplane and was considered safe to launch humans from the outset. Even though the Liberty was not selected for CCiCap funding, ATK says it probably will compete for NASA human rating with Liberty anyway.
NASA has also been in discussions with the European Space Agency (ESA) about building the service module for the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle under development for government-run exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to ride behind the four-seat capsule that Lockheed Martin started developing for NASA under the Constellation program, the service module will carry propulsion, power, avionics and other systems the crew needs to operate in space until shortly before reentry.
ESA has been looking for ways to advance the technology that went into the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) the ISS partnership uses for station resupply under barter agreements that also include U.S.-provided transport for European astronauts. Many of the systems in the ATV could be adapted to the Orion service module, which has been deferred in development because of other demands on NASA's flat budget.
The idea faces opposition among the ESA member stages, some of which would rather see Europe develop a more distinctive spacecraft. France has pushed for a “Versatile Autonomous Concept” (VAC) that would evolve ATV technology into a multi-mission platform able to conduct robotic spacecraft servicing, orbital debris removal and ultimately conduct robotic exploration at Mars (AW&ST April 2, p. 43). However, the VAC would cost at least €700 million ($900 million), which does not appear to be available. As a result, ESA may be forced to work with NASA on the Orion service module or a portion of it (see p. 44).
India, too, is struggling with its next steps in space. While development of an indigenous upper-stage engine for its Geostationary Space Launch Vehicle has hit snags, success with its Polar Space Launch Vehicle and the Chandrayaan-1 robotic lunar orbiter had led some Indian space leaders to advocate an ambitious effort to fly humans into space.
The Indian Space Research Organization has experimented with subscale reentry vehicles as part of that work, but lack of government support recently forced ISRO to drop long-range plans to send humans to the Moon as a follow-on to the planned Chandrayaan-2 robotic lunar landing. An orbital human vehicle program remains on the table, but without final government approval (see p. 43).
Two spacecraft are taking humans to low Earth orbit. At least seven more are in development. To see what's flying, and what's in the works, check out the digital edition of AW&ST on leading tablets and smartphones, or go to AviationWeek.com/hsf