Russian-Made Kliper Spaceplane Would Have Looked Like a Penguin Floating in Orbit

The topic of never-realized spacecraft designs is one of the most exciting for people with a passion for space exploration. That's because learning or looking at them with the help of modern-day technology paints the picture of a future that never came to pass, or in some sense brings to light some sort of alternate reality where these things really exist.
Russain Kliper spaceplane CGI 12 photos
Photo: Hazegrayart
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Generally speaking most of the spacecraft designs we've discussed here date back to the early days of space exploration, because that's when most of them have been imagined. After all, the rockets and spaceships we ended up having would not have been possible without many other designs failing.

Another aspect worth noting is that most of the hardware that never came to serve humanity's space expansion goals has been thought of in the U.S. But other nations, especially America's main competitor in this field back in the day, had their share of failed space projects as well, some of them quite recent. And they are just as spectacular as all others.

One such design is a spaceplane called Kliper. It first came into the spotlight back in the early 2000s, when it was proposed by RSC Energia, one of Russia's main producers of space-going hardware.

The idea of the Kliper came about in the wake of the American Space Shuttle's success, and was fueled by a need the Russians had to finally replace the Soyuz spacecraft that had been in use since the 1960s.

The design was supposed to be reusable and should have allowed for up to 25 trips to space and back before being retired. Up to six astronauts and 700 kg (1,543 pounds) of cargo would have been transported during flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

On its own, the ship would have been able to stay in space for up to 15 days, but when attached to the ISS that time would grow to a full year.

The Russian company was quite determined to make the Kliper a thing, and it even enlisted the help of its then-partner in space exploration, the European Space Agency (ESA), which was on the lookout for a new transport vehicle to reach both the ISS and the Moon.

RSC even showed a version of the clipper at various specialized shows across the European and Asian continents.

The first launch of the Kliper spaceplane was scheduled for 2011, the year when the American Space Shuttle eventually retired, meaning it would have come at the perfect moment to continue serving the ISS in the proper fashion. By 2014, it was expected to completely replace the Soyuz spacecraft.

Both a lifting body and a winged spaceplane design for the Kliper were considered for production. At one point the people behind the project even imagined it as a ship that would launch on top of a rocket, then meet up in orbit with a space tug that would have allowed it to maneuver in orbit.

All that means the idea had a lot of potential, and would have diversified the ways we reach space much sooner than SpaceX and the other private space companies managed to do. Yet, an utter lack of funding for the project spelled its doom, and the Russian Kliper never came to be.

We can see it though taking off and reaching the Space Station in this most recent animation coming from space CGI specialist Hazegrayart. And even if from some angles it looks ridiculously similar to a penguin floating in orbit, it's still a sight for sore eyes.

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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