Europe to develop commercial space capsule
The European Space Agency is holding a competition to develop a robotic capsule that will transport cargo between the International Space Station and earth.
It is anticipated that the vehicle will make its maiden voyage in 2028.
In terms of how ESA has traditionally handled its projects, this initiative marks a significant change.
The agency will provide funding and technical support to the competition winner, but the capsule must operate commercially.
The company will have to part-fund the development and then “sell” the re-supply “service” to Esa, whose “anchor customer” it will be.
In the event that the project succeeds, the company behind the capsule may be asked to upgrade it in order to carry ESA astronauts into orbit, again under a commercial contract.
According to Josef Aschbacher, director-general of the European Space Agency, ESA will design the capsule so that it is not a dead end, meaning that it can evolve in the future into a crew vehicle.
He told reporters that if it develops further, it could eventually reach other destinations, perhaps the Moon.
The DG said an internal tiger team would be formed with a budget of €75 million (£65 million) to get the competition going.
At a meeting on Monday in Seville, Spain, Esa member states enthusiastically supported the idea.
A competitive procurement model has proven extremely successful for the American space agency.
The SpaceX company was formed this way by entrepreneur Elon Musk. The Californian firm he founded has since become Nasa’s primary provider of space transportation services. For astronaut transportation to and from the ISS, the US agency contracts SpaceX rockets, and for science missions beyond Earth, it purchases Seats in SpaceX capsules.