Until recently, the 14.5-ton, six-man, 20-launch Kliper, currently under development by Energia, the Russian space vehicle designer and producer, had been made especially for the Zenit, to have been launched from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. However, after recent political changes in Ukraine, the Russian leadership rethought cooperation with Ukrainians on hi-tech projects.
"If we are committed to the development of our manned missions, the Kliper has to be fully aligned with the Russian carrier, that is, with the Angara," an industry official said. "After all, we don't know Kazakhstan's political future. What if another revolution happens there?"
The Angara could also be launched from the Russian space center in Plesetsk, in the Arkhangelsk Region, in European Russia's north.
Experts are still cautious about the Angara, a new and non-tested concept, while the Zenit has been in service since 1985 and has a record of over 50 launches. The Russian rocket is expected to take to the air in 2007, but follow-up development for manned missions would take at least five years.
But, operating the Angara would be considerably cheaper than operating the Zenit, a plus for Moscow since the program is state-funded. The Zenit would require transportation from Ukraine through Russia to Kazakhstan.
However, the Angara's international prospects are still unclear. According to the source, "A lot of carrier rockets are marketed internationally, and Russian ones are favored for their reliability and low cost."
Lockheed, a world leader in the space launch industry, through its own communication agency, International Launch Service, will promote the Angara on the international market.