European government and industry officials said their governments likely will approve some initial work on Russia’s Clipper crew-transport vehicle this year if Russia provides assurances that a European contribution would include critical vehicle technologies.

These officials said the U.S. government’s refusal to permit European participation in the U.S. Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) program makes it more likely that a Euro-Russian partnership in next-generation crewed spaceflight will be formed.

And Evert Dudok, president of EADS Space Transportation, the prime contractor for Ariane 5 vehicles and Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo tug, said the prospect of a European alliance with Russia might move the United States to reconsider its go-it-alone approach to the CEV.

“If we sign a contract with Russia on Clipper, I am not sure that the Americans would not change their minds,” Dudok said here May 2 during a ceremony to mark the completion of Europe’s Columbus Laboratory module for the international space station.

European Space Agency Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain declined to go that far. “I am not playing with the Russians just to move the United States,” Dordain told reporters here. “I have been told by [NASA Administrator] Mike Griffin and [White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John] Marburger that CEV is not for international cooperation. But if Europe is not involved in the next-generation transportation systems, we will stay forever a second-class partner.”

Dordain tried to win support for an initial ESA Clipper participation in December during a meeting of the agency’s member governments to set midterm spending priorities, but was rebuffed. The agency nonetheless was encouraged to try again this year once more is known about Clipper’s design and mission profile.

Daniel Sacotte, ESA’s director for human spaceflight, said ESA in December had given its governments a June deadline for signing on to an initial Clipper research effort, with a full development effort to be decided in 2008.

Sacotte said in an interview the deadline might be extended to September, but early indications are that ESA governments want to be involved in Clipper.

Sigmar Wittig, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said Germany probably will back initial work on Clipper but first needs to be certain that Europe’s participation would include critical vehicle technologies.

Without naming the now-cancel ed NASA X-38 vehicle, in which Germany had invested heavily, Wittig said Germany would not repeat the error of taking part in technologies that were not central to the vehicle’s development.

“We will not be doing anything where we do not have a technologically important role,” Wittig said in an interview. “I also have questions about Clipper’s mission. What is it going to do? If it is just to fill a five-year hole in transportation after the U.S. space shuttle is retired in 2010, then I’m not sure it’s that interesting. What is its role in future space exploration?”

EADS Space Transportation had been a part of a Lockheed Martin-led team bidding for the CEV prime contract, but it was quietly told late in 2005 that its participation was no longer wanted. Sacotte said he has no indication that U.S. CEV policy will change anytime soon.