When we started making our space shuttle, the Russians made one too.  It was practically identical in every way.  They did one unmanned orbit with it, and ran out of money, and that was the end of that.

They’ve been holding up their end of the International Space Station deal using Soyuz rockets, old school things like our Saturn V.  That’s expensive and wasteful however, and they’re getting tired of it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our space shuttles are wearing out.  They’re just plain old.  Building more just like them would be dumb, since our technology is so much more advanced than it was then.  On the other hand, no-one’s building The Next Big Thing either.

The other day Russia announced their next generation space vehicle called the Kliper, or "Clipper Ship".  The theory is that it’s a lot smaller and cheaper than the shuttle, and is intended to be a personnel transport, rather than a cargo ship like our shuttle.

There are quite a few details that aren’t quite clear to me yet though.  For example, I read that there’s the possibility of it actually towing some cargo back from space, with that cargo wrapped in a gas sheild.  I have NO idea how that would work.

Another thing is that it comes back to the ground in an uncontrolled parachute landing, despite the fact that it has small wings.  Originally it didn’t have wings, but adding the wings made it so that as it comes through the upper atmosphere they can actually maneuver and aim for the spot the want to land with the parachute.  On the other hand,  an emergency ejection on take off would allow for it to do a controlled landing at an airfield, like a regular plane.  If they can do that, why not land that way all the time, like the shuttle does now?  Odd.

Regardless, it would be much less expensive than the shuttle in every way, and far easier to deal with.  This appeals to everyone in the ISS program except the US, since we’re just about the only ones that really send up cargo.  Putting a British or Japanese astronaut on a Russian Clipper would be a LOT cheaper for them, and they still get the ISS time they really want.

I forsee a time when we have several different classes of space rides, clippers for quick cheap(ish) human transport, heavy lifters for getting new equipment up there, and interplanetary ships that would probably be assembled in space, or at least on the moon.

We’ll see what happens.

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