The United States plans to create a space plane that would bring crews to the International Space Station /ISS/ and rescue space-crews in distress, Russia's Rosaviakosmos aerospace agency said Monday.
The National Aeronautical and Space Administration /NASA/ has allocated $135 million to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to work out the design documents, which is the first phase of the project. The US expects the 6-7-seater orbital plane will have been built by 2010.
It is Russia's Soyuz TMA manned vehicles that have been bringing crews to the ISS and back since February 2003, recalled Rosaviakosmos.
It is still unclear whether the US will send the three remaining space shuttles towards the ISS after the Columbia disaster. It is not known either whether the European Space Agency will have built a multiseater spaceship by 2006-2007, the project the Agency has just embarked on. The ESA spaceship is designed to replace American space shuttles.
That is why it is Russian Soyuz vehicles only that are bringing in new ISS crews.
Russia has therefore started assembling 3-4 new vehicles. They will maintain the ISS in orbit at least till mid next year, according to Rosaviakosmos.