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Clipper spacecraft constructor to be announced in February 2006

MOSCOW, January 17 (RIA Novosti) - The winner of a tender to build a new-generation spacecraft will be announced on February 18, the Russian Space Agency said Tuesday.

Three Russian companies - the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, the Khrunichev Space Center and the Molniya Research and Production Association - have submitted bids to build the Clipper re-usable space craft.

Agency spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko said: "The results of a closed tender will be announced in the first half of February."

Agency head Anatoly Perminov had said earlier that Russia was also hoping to attract other countries to the Clipper construction project, and the European Space Agency (ESA) expressed interest in the six-man craft, which should eventually designed to replace the workhorse of the Russian space program, the Soyuz carrier rocket.

Although ESA head Jean-Jacques Dordain said last summer that the ESA Council at ministerial level had not decided to participate directly in the Clipper project, it had agreed to allocate 300 million euros over the next three years to the development of advanced technologies for new transport spacecraft. The most likely recipient is thought to be the Clipper.

Dordain said Europe should participate in at least one international project to avoid falling behind in space exploration.

"I will do everything I can to encourage broad support for the [Clipper] project in Europe," he said.

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