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Soyuz-3 launch vehicle


The concept of the spacecraft, which would later evolve into Parom, apparently originated at the turn of the 21st century, when Russia first pondered the possibility of launching space station modules, originally designed to ride into orbit onboard the US Shuttle. The idea was to have a highly maneuverable space tug parked in orbit or at the space station, from where it could conduct multiple sorties to meet with recently launched payloads and then deliver them to the space station. The concept later merged with the Kliper project and became known as Parom (Ferry).

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Russia re-thinks Kliper... again

During 2005, RKK Energia, the developer of Russia's next-generation manned spacecraft, embarked on another major revision of the yet-to-be-built Kliper reusable orbiter. It would be the third significant re-shaping of the spacecraft configuration, since it was first unveiled to the public in February 2004.

The latest design 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 as Soyuz-2-3, would become a culmination of incremental upgrades, which had been planned for the Soyuz-2 family of rockets since 1990s. Previously, RKK Energia considered launching Kliper onboard of a heavily modified Soyuz-3 rocket, existing Zenit-2 launcher or yet-to-be-built Angara rocket.

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

The 6,800-kilogram unmanned Parom orbital tug -- a reminiscent of the Soviet-era TKS spacecraft -- would carry propulsion system for orbital maneuvering and additional habitation volume. The vehicle could be launched ahead of the Kliper and wait for the latter in a parking orbit or at the space station. Upon the Kliper launch, the two vehicles would dock, and the Parom would then provide all orbital maneuvering and attitude control necessary to reach the space station or higher orbits. At the conclusion of the flight, the Kliper, carrying the crew, would reenter the atmosphere and glide to Earth, while the Parom, with enough propellant onboard, could return to the space station, awaiting next manned mission.

The modular nature of the Parom spacecraft adds a potential for virtually unlimited upgrades of the vehicle. As a result, the Kliper-Parom combination could become a foundation for the manned exploration of the Moon and even expeditions to Mars.

Progress replacement

The concept of the Parom orbital tug could be also be applied to cargo delivery. In combination with the expendable unmanned tanker/container ship, the Parom would conduct multiple sorties delivering fuel and dry cargo to the orbiting space station. As such, the Parom could replace venerable Progress cargo ship, which in the 1970s paved the way to the long-term presence of Soviet cosmonauts in the Earth orbit.

Like the Progress, the future cargo ship would sport a propellant section and a pressurized module for dry cargo, which would be accessible by the space station crew. Both sections, however, would have increased capacity in comparison to the Progress. Unlike the Progress, the new cargo ship would have "low power" propulsion system for basic attitude control, while all active maneuvering would be performed by the Parom orbital tug, after its rendezvous with the cargo career.

Like the main module of the Parom spacecraft, the unmanned cargo carrier was designed to be launched by the Soyuz-2-3 rocket.


In November 2006, Director General of the Russian Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov said that the Parom's first launch was planned for 2009. (238) During 2009 and 2010, a transport system including a space tug and a cargo container re-appeared in forward-looking Russian documents, this time, tailored for the Rus-M rocket based in Vostochny. Identified as Transport Cargo Space System, TGKS, the spacecraft was expected to be one of the first payloads of the new rocket booster, then scheduled for launch in 2015. The cargo ship was sized to 12-14 tons in order to fit into the payload capabilities of the Rus-M. (376)

Known specifications for the Parom spacecraft:

Launch mass
6,800 kg (as of Fall 2005)
Time in autonomous flight
180 days (238)
Operational lifespan
15 years (238)

Written and illustrated by Anatoly Zak

All rights reserved

Last update: February 9, 2010





Animation showing the deployment of the solar panels onboard the Parom spacecraft. Click to play: 320 x 240 pixels / 4 seconds / 328K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

Animation showing docking of the Parom spacecraft with the unmanned cargo carrier. Click to play: 320 x 240 pixels / 8 seconds / 304K Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak

Click to enlarge: 400 by 300 pixels / 40K. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

Artist rendering of the Parom orbital tug. Click to enlarge: 400 by 300 pixels / 40K. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The Parom docks in orbit with the Kliper reusable orbiter. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

The Parom docks in orbit with the unmanned cargo carrier. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 40K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

Major elements of the cargo version of the Parom spacecraft. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 24K Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak