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While the US is planning to develop a new manned spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), aka Project Constellation, the Russians have some plans of their own. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported Sunday that the Russian aerospace company RSC Energia is developing a vehicle called “Clipper” designed to replace the venerable Soyuz spacecraft used to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station while the shuttle remains grounded. Unlike the Soyuz, which can carry three people and is designed to fly only a single mission, Clipper could carry up to seven people and be reused. There’s a catch, though: while the Energia officials say Clipper will be ready to fly in 2010 – up to four years before the US CEV is ready to carry astronauts – there’s no evidence that the Russian government will be willing to pay for the development of a radical new vehicle when the Soyuz does the job reasonable well now. Given the numerous problems Russia has had funding its space efforts in recent years, don’t count on seeing the Clipper program take off – figuratively and literally – just yet.

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