Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 11:47 UK

Soyuz successor contract awarded

Artist's impression of the future vehicle, equipped with a booster stage to escape the Earth’s gravity and to reach lunar orbit.
The new ship would be launched towards the end of the next decade

RSC Energia has been selected to lead the development of a next-generation Russian manned spacecraft.

The company was selected by the federal space agency, Roscosmos, on Monday.

The new ship will be capable of taking six cosmonauts to low-Earth orbit, and a variant would also be required to reach the Moon.

The spacecraft will replace the venerable three-seat Soyuz capsule, which has carried Russian cosmonauts into orbit for more than four decades.

Energia produced the very first series of Soyuz capsules in the late 1960s.

The new spacecraft, currently known only by the Russian abbreviation PPTS, is likely to fly before the end of the next decade.

The Earth-orbiting version of the ship would probably have a mass of 12 tonnes, carry a crew of six, along with no less than 500kg of cargo; while its "lunar cousin" would weigh 16.5 tonnes, have four seats and be capable of delivering and bringing back 100kg of cargo.

An unmanned cargo version of the vehicle would be required to carry no less than 2,000kg to Earth orbit, and return at least 500kg back to the planet's surface.

The Russian effort parallels that of the US which is in the process of developing its own next-generation spacecraft, known as Orion.

The initial feasibility study runs until June next year and is funded to the value of 800m roubles (17m euros; $23m; £16m)

In recent years, Russia and Europe did look at the possibility of developing a vehicle together, but the two parties could not agree on the work share.

Europe will now separately pursue the possibility of upgrading its robotic ATV space freighter to a manned ship, but still using some Russian technology.

European member states approved a limited development fund for the project at their ministerial meeting in The Hague last November.

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