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Below: Interpretive drawing of the Kliper spacecraft as of beginning of 2004:


To order graphics and animations contact Anatoly Zak

The artist rendering of the Kliper spacecraft as it was first revealed at the beginning of 2004. Note solar panels, a cover of the parachute container on top of the vehicle, attachments for the emergency escape tower in the nose. Credit: Channel I of the Russian television.

Artist interpretation of the Kliper reentry vehicle during landing. Click to enlarge: 400 x 302 pixels / 104K

The configuration of the Kliper spacecraft released on November 30, 2004. Solar panels are replaced by fuel cells, emergency escape system is moved from the nose of the craft to the launch vehicle adapter. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

Major elements of the Kliper spacecraft as of November 30, 2004. Click to enlarge: 300 x 234 pixels / 20K

The winged version of the Kliper spacecraft, displayed during Paris Air Show in Le Bourget in June 2005. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The configuration of the winged version of the Kliper spacecraft as of 2004 -- beginning 2005, shown immediately after separation from the upper stage of its launch vehicle. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K

This animation illustrates proposed sequence of orbital insertion for the Kliper, where eight solid-propellant motors mounted on the adapter ring would be fired in pairs shortly after separation of the spacecraft from the last stage of its launch vehicle, giving it final push into orbit. In case of emergency during the launch, all eight engines would fire simultaneously to carry the spacecraft away from the failing booster rocket. Click to play: 320 x 240 pixels / 12 seconds / 1.1 MB

The Kliper spacecraft in orbit, shortly after separation from the launch vehicle adapter. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K

The separation of the propulsion and habitation modules prior to the reentry of the Kliper spacecraft into the Earth atmosphere. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K

Animation illustrating major elements of the Kliper spacecraft. Click to play: 320 by 240 pixels / 260K.

Informational graphic illustrating major elements of the Kliper spacecraft: Click to enlarge: 400 x 318 pixels / 48K

The configuration of the Kliper spacecraft in the second half of 2005, coupled with the Parom orbital tug. Note absence of the instrument and propulsion module, as well as habitation section. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K

The configuration of the Kliper spacecraft as of 2006. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K





Since 1970s, Russian engineers pondered over possible configurations of a new spacecraft, which could replace the venerable but relatively small Soyuz. Before the collapse of the USSR, RKK Energia -- the developer of the Soyuz -- attempted to tackle the issue several times, however technical and financial problems kept all these efforts from coming to fruition. However, as soon as the Russian economy started emerging from the post-Soviet transition, developers renewed their search for the Soyuz replacement.

Initial disclosure

During a press-conference at the ITAR TASS news agency on February 17, 2004, Yuri Koptev revealed that since 2000, RKK Energia had been working on a brand-new vehicle called Kliper (Clipper). In the following days, a flurry of reports in the Russian press provided the first details on the project.

At the time of Koptev's announcement, the project apparently had already evolved through several reincarnations, however from the outset it was a partially reusable "lifting-body" -- essentially a wingless orbiter, shaped in such a way that it could have an aerodynamic lift, when returning from orbit into the atmosphere. It would be launched by a medium class rocket.

The initial studies, which led to the Kliper concept, sought a modern vehicle capable of replacing the Soyuz, but built on existing manufacturing base as much as possible. One of the early concepts included an enlarged reentry capsule of the Soyuz spacecraft for as many as five or six people. However soon requirements for the precise landing dictated a vehicle, which would be capable of the controlled flight in the atmosphere.

In the second half of the 1990s, a leading aerodynamist of RKK Energia, Reshetin, proposed a reusable "lifting-body" spacecraft, which could carry up to six people and return up to 700 kilograms from orbit. In the following years, the aerodynamics of the vehicle was calculated and its mockup was tested in a wind tunnel. (259)

As of 2004, RKK Energia had submitted technical proposals for the new spacecraft to the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos. The agency has apparently provided limited funding for further preliminary studies.

In April 2004, Nikolai Moiseev, First Deputy Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency, FKA, (formerly Rosaviacosmos) told Russian news agency that the Kliper project would be included in the federal space plan for 2005-2015.

On November 30, 2004, RKK Energia invited the press into its Checkout and Testing Station, KIS, to inspect a full-scale mockup of the Kliper spacecraft. The company also released revised technical information on the project, including details on a winged version of the spacecraft, developed in parallel with the work on the "lifting body."

Switch to wings

During 2004, RKK Energia apparently contacted its European partners on the feasibility of cooperative development of the Kliper. In 2005, RKK Energia displayed the spacecraft at EXPO-2005 in Japan and Le Bourget Air and Space Show, France.

However, the funding for the project was not forthcoming. In April 2005, in the interview with the Russian Novosti News Agency, Valeri Ryumin, Deputy designer General at RKK Energia said that the Russian federal budget did not earmarked any money for the program.

Upon completion of the preliminary evaluation of the lifting body for the Kliper, designers turned their attention to the concept of a winged vehicle. Although at one point both concepts were considered in parallel, soon RKK Energia focused on the winged version. At the time, Yuri Koptev still led the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos, comprising both aviation and space industry. He apparently facilitated the involvement of the aviation industry into the Kliper project, which made the development of the winged orbiter both desirable and feasible.

Sukhoi's involvement

In March 2005, realizing new challenges of a winged design, RKK Energia leadership convinced OKB Sukhoi, a world-renown developer of military aircraft, to invest its own resources and expertise into the Kliper project. The agreement signed in March 2005 was reached after several months of negotiations between RKK Energia's chief Yuri Semenov and the head of the Sukhoi company Mikhail Pagasyan.

According to the agreement, RKK Energia would remain responsible for the overall design of the vehicle, including its aerodynamic shape, and RKK Energia would be responsible for ensuring the survivability of the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle at hypersonic speed. Sukhoi was expected to take RKK Energia's aerodynamic shape and conduct wind-tunnel tests according to their methodic for its temperature and stability characteristics.

Enter Europe

In search for partners in the development of the Kliper spacecraft, RKK Energia also looked outside Russia. With NASA out of the picture as a potential partner, Russians sought the cooperation with Europe and Japan.

Choosing the launcher

According to the original plans, the Kliper would be launched on top of a yet-to-be developed Onega booster -- a heavily modified Soyuz rocket -- with no payload fairing but with the emergency escape rocket attached to the nose section of the reentry capsule. The emergency escape system, resembling that of the Soyuz spacecraft, would be capable of pulling the crew capsule away from the launch vehicle at every stage of the launch and orbit insertion.

A successful development of the Onega booster and its launch infrastructure would be one of the most challenging and expensive aspects of the project. Also, the decision to base the project on the expendable booster would limit economic viability of the reusable spacecraft. The Onega booster, could be launched from upgraded Soyuz facilities in Baikonur, Plesetsk and, potentially, French Guiana.

Given virtually nonexistent chances of obtaining funding for the Onega, RKK Energia considered the Zenit booster with similar capabilities. The most advanced vehicle in the Soviet rocket fleet, the Zenit was essentially banished from the Russian space program, when the collapse of the USSR left its prime manufacturer in the newly independent republic of Ukraine. Yet, in the case of Kliper, technical pragmatism outweighed political considerations.

By August 2004, the company essentially committed to "re-tailor" the Kliper for the Zenit. The spacecraft had to shed around 1.5 tons from its total mass and around one ton from the mass of its reentry capsule. In addition, the emergency escape system was moved from the top of the spacecraft to the launch vehicle adapter. This way, during a nominal flight, emergency escape engines would be used for final orbital insertion maneuver, providing extra weight savings.

In 2005, the idea of using the Soyuz-derived vehicle re-surfaced again, however the Onega concept was replaced by the Soyuz-3 configuration. As of June 2005, Zenit, Soyuz-3 and Angara were all considered as launch vehicles. Igor Barmin, a chief of KBOM launch complex design bureau said that the architecture of the launch complex for the Soyuz rocket in Kourou would allow to modify it for manned launches of the Soyuz spacecraft, however more significant upgrades of the infrastructure would be required if the facility was to accomodate the Onega booster for Kliper.

Russian company KBOM received its first money for the construction of the launch pad for the Soyuz rocket in Kourou. On April 26, 2005, the countdown started for 35 months, during which, the company has to have the launch complex, for final tests (kompleksnye ispytaniya). The real launch then can take place within two months, sometimes in 2008.

The major difference of the Kourou launch facility from the Baikonur-based launch pads was the vertical integration of the upper stage and the payload of the Soyuz rocket on the launch pad. This was due to impossibility of processing some commercial payloads in horizontal position. To enable vertical assembly of the rocket, a movable service tower was introduced into the complex, which would be retracted shortly before launch. According to Barmin, that tower could potentially serve as the entry point for the crew to board the manned spacecraft.

Introduction of Parom

During 2005, RKK Energia embarked on another major revision of the Kliper design. The new configuration included not one but two vehicles: the Kliper reentry glider itself and the Parom (ferry) orbital tug -- a new element of the system, which would be launched by a separate rocket. Splitting the spacecraft into two independent segments would enable their launches onboard a modified version of the Soyuz rocket, which has been a workhorse of the Russian manned spaceflight for decades. The launch vehicle, designated Soyuz-2-3, would become a culmination of incremental upgrades then planned for the Soyuz-2 family of rockets.

As added bonus, the use of the Soyuz-2-3 rocket would allow launching the Kliper from the European Space Agency's facility in French Guiana, offering extra payload capabilities due to its geographical location.

Federal tender

Despite a setback in securing the European funding for the project in December of 2005, the Russian government said it had already committed to the development of the vehicle.

On October 22, 2005, the Russian government signed a decree No. 635, approving Federal Space Program for 2006-2015. It included planned funding for the new generation of reusable spacecraft. However in the accordance with the current Russian law, the prime developer of the vehicle had to be chosen in a tender. As a result, Khrunichev enterprise and NPO Molniya were invited to compete with RKK Energia in a closed tender, which opened at Roskosmos headquarters in Moscow on January 18, 2006.

Little details on the content of the proposals had been officially released at the beginning of the tender; although Roskosmos did state that the paperwork submitted by NPO Molniya had not met the requirements of the tender, since the cost of the proposal was calculated in "foreign currency" and the proper authorization was missing.

Competing proposals

Number of observers believed that Khrunichev came to the tender with a proposal for a follow-on to the TKS spacecraft, whose configuration had surfaced previously. However a drawing of a small winged vehicle with folding wings and launched by the Angara-3 rocket had also circulated.

NPO Molniya presented a slightly modified version of the MAKS space plane, which would be launched in mid-air from the An-225 Mriya transport aircraft.

Kliper in 2006 configuration

For obvious reasons, all eyes were on the latest reincarnation of the Kliper design submitted to the tender by RKK Energia, however details were emerging slowly. An officially released photo of RKK Energia's president Nikolai Sevastyanov holding an artist rendition of the "new" Kliper at the opening of the tender was analyzed to death, but it was too distorted by the perspective and low resolution to clearly visualize the vehicle.

First clear images of the latest configuration leaked from the Proceedings on the Cosmonautics held at Bauman school in Moscow on January 25-27, 2006. A redesigned shape of the Kliper, as well as modifications of the Parom orbital tug became apparent. At the time, RKK Energia kept all options on the table with respect to the launch vehicle. The Soyuz-2, Soyuz-2-3, Angara-3 and Zenit were all under consideration.

RKK Energia also returned to the use of the expendable habitation and propulsion module, since the tender required a single spacecraft design, rather than a "system." The Kliper with the habitation and propulsion module could still be launched by the Zenit-2 or the Soyuz-3 rockets, while the lighter vehicle could fly later on the Soyuz-2-3.

As required by the tender, the Kliper would be capable of lunar missions, (apparently, in a wingless configuration), and even had a potential for its use in the expeditions to Mars.

In the meantime, studies of Kliper's aerodynamics during 2005 resulted in drastic changes in the shape of its fuselage. In the effort to reduce heat loads on the underbelly of the vehicle during the reentry, engineers "rounded" a previously flat bottom of the vehicle. The wing structure was now attached to the fuselage at a higher position than before.

A somewhat flattened fuselage now held a cylindrical crew compartment and conical nose section. The crew members would now sit in pairs in three rows, instead of previous two rows with two pilots in front and four passengers behind.

Tender extends into 2006

Many observers saw the tender as a formality and RKK Energia a predetermined winner. They were proven wrong, when on February 3, 2006, when the tender was expected to be concluded, space officials announced the extension. According to Roskosmos, "none of the contenders was able to fully satisfy the requirements of the tender in respect to technical feasibility of the project within established timeframe and at the required level of safety." Representative of Roskosmos was quoted saying that the commission, which oversaw the tender, would clarify its requirements and deliver them to the participants within a month. On February 17, 2006, Deputy Head of Roskosmos Nikolai Moiseev said that the tender would be completed before the end of 2006. Moiseev added that the spacecraft should be able to function in space autonomously for no less than a month and be capable of lunar missions.

Then, it was widely anticipated that even if Khrunichev and NPO Molniya lose the competition to RKK Energia, the companies could still assume a role in the project as subcontractors.

Deferral of the program

On July 19, 2006, Russian space agency, Roskosmos, announced that it deferred the development of the new manned spacecraft until the next stage in the modernization of the nation's manned transport system. The agency's statement hinted that RKK Energia proposals for the Kliper spacecraft and Khrunichev's concept of the TKS-based capsule required the development of launch vehicles (Soyuz-2-3 and Angara-3 respectively), which Russian government would not be able to fund within 2006-2015 timeframe. The NPO Molniya's proposal for the development of an air-launched vehicle was rejected on the grounds that it involved the Antonov-224 Mriya carrier aircraft manufactured in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, while Russian government wanted all system contractors to be located inside Russia.

In the meantime, the agency accepted alternative proposals from RKK Energia to conduct a radical upgrade of the Soyuz spacecraft, in order to give it the capabilities for circumlunar missions. Roskosmos said that the upgraded Soyuz would allow testing of prospective technologies, which could be later applied to the next-generation systems. According to Roskosmos, results of this work would pave the way to the decision on the design of the next generation spacecraft, "if such (spacecraft) would be required."


Evolution of the Kliper design

Distinctive characteristics Status
A wingless lifting body with emergency escape engines attached in the nose and solar panels on the service module. Would use parachute landing. Unveiled in February 2004
A wingless lifting body with emergency escape engines placed on the launch vehicle adapter, where they can double as orbital insertion system. Solar panels replaced with fuel cells. Unveiled in November 2004
A winged vehicle, presented as an alternative to the lifting body design. Orbital maneuvering engines moved inside of the service module from the external surface of the habitation module. Aerodynamic shape redesigned to accommodate wings. Number of attitude control thrusters reduced. Unveiled in November 2004
A winged vehicle without habitation and service modules, designed to dock with the Parom orbital tug. Developed during 2005
Aerodynamic shape of the vehicle is redesigned to reduce heat loads during reentry. Crew seats are arranged in three rows. Presented to the government tender in January 2006
A Soyuz-bssed vehicle, capable of circumlunar missions, employing new technologies, which could be potentially used in the development of a winged reusable orbiter. Declared as a preferred configuration in July 2006

Development plan (as of 2005)

As of 2005, the development plan for the Kliper project called for following milestones:

2007: Completion of the preliminary design

2008: Completion of the working documentation

2012: Completion of the experimental development

2013: First (unmanned) flight test

Development cooperation

Primary developer
RKK Energia
Aerodynamics OKB Sukhoi Moscow
Thermal protection Plastik Syzran

Chronology of the Kliper project

2000: RKK Energia initiates studies into a possible Soyuz replacement.

2004 Feb. 17: Yuri Koptev revealed that RKK Energia, had been working on a brand-new manned spacecraft called Kliper.

2004 middle of year: Russia proposes the European Space Agency to cooperate in the development of the Kliper.

2004 August (?): RKK Energia decides to switch the launch vehicle of the Kliper from Onega to Zenit.

2004 Nov. 30: RKK Energia unveils an upgraded configuration of the Kliper spacecraft, including a possible winged version. Solar panels are replaced with fuel cells.

2005 February: The Russian-European working group on the Kliper project meets for the first time. RKK Energia presents its proposals on the development of the manned winged version of the Kliper. At the time, Europe is only interested in the reusable cargo vehicle, to replace the ATV spacecraft. Both would be launched by the Ariane 5 rocket.

2005 March: RKK Energia and OKB Sukhoi, a world-renown developer of military aircraft, signed an agreement for the joint development of the winged version of the Kliper spacecraft.

2005 April: The new meeting between Russian and European officials took place where ESA expressed interest in the manned orbiter, leaving a cargo version as an extra option.

2005 June 10: The head of manned space program of the European Space Agency, ESA, conducts talks with Russian space officials in Moscow on the possible cooperation in the development of the Kliper.

2005 June 13-19: Roskosmos displays a scaled model of the Kliper spacecraft at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, conducts negotiations with European Space Agency and the industry on possible cooperation in the development of the spacecraft.

2005 October: Top officials of RKK Energia visit Japan to explore the possibilities for cooperation on the Kliper project.

2005 Oct. 22: The Russian government signed a decree No. 635, approving Federal Space Program for 2006-2015. It included funding for the Kliper project.

2005 September-November: RKK Energia redesigns Kliper to include the Parom orbital tug into the project.

2005 December: European officials reject a proposal for ESA's involvement in the development of the Kliper.

2006 Jan 18: Deputy Head of Roskosmos Viktor Ramishevsky chaired the first meeting of the commission conducting a closed tender on the contract to develop the new generation reusable manned spacecraft, the agency's web site had said. At the time, the winner of the tender was expected to be announced on February 3, 2006.

2006 March 14: RKK Energia completed (preliminary) design of the Kliper project, Nikolai Sevastyanov, president of the company has announced. The vehicle was expected to enter service before 2015, according to Sevastyanov.

2006 May 16-21: At Berlin Air Show, ILA2006, Head of Roskosmos Anatoly Perminov discussed with European space officials possible cooperation in the development of a spacecraft for the flights to the Moon.

2006 June 21-22: ESA’s ruling council, which met at the agency’s headquarters in Paris, France, on June 21 and 22, 2006 made a decision to embark on a two-year study in cooperation with Russia on possible development of spacecraft capable of reaching lunar orbit.

2006 July 19: Roskosmos announced that it deferred the development of the new manned spacecraft until the next stage in the modernization of the nation's manned transport system.

Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: January 19, 2010

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