Excalibur Almaz Joins the Space Industrial Revolution
Excalibur Almaz Limited (EA), an international space exploration company, today announced plans to open up a new era of private orbital space flight for commercial customers, using updated elements of the “Almaz” space system originally developed by Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia (or NPOM). It consists of two vehicles: the Almaz reusable spacecraft and re-entry vehicle or RRV and its accompanying, expendable Service Module, which will allow the spacecraft to perform flights of up to one week, without rendezvous with a space station. The company says it, “plans for its spacecraft to be compatible with a number of launch vehicles and capable of being launched from worldwide sites.”
EA plans to offer week-long orbital space flights beginning as early as 2013 – taking a big leap beyond the sub-orbital flight market targeted by most other private space companies. In addition to NPOM, other leading aerospace firms in the U.S., Europe and Japan will provide technical support for EA’s space flight operations.
EA Founder and CEO Art Dula said, “Through cooperation with NPOM and with the support of leading space contractors around the world and an exceptionally strong management and advisory team, EA is in a unique position to initiate a new era of private orbital space exploration.”
And indeed the company does have an impressive array of leadership, including Walter Cunningham who was pilot for Apollo 7 and who later served as Chief of the Skylab Branch of NASA’s Fight Crew Directorate; There’s Leroy Chiao, Commander of Expedition 10 aboard the International Space Station; Vladimir Titov, the Russian cosmonaut who set a record for spending more than a year in space for the first time and who also trained for missions using the Almaz spacecraft. Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev who flew on space shuttle mission STS-96 and also spent 6 months on ISS; and then there’s Jonathan Clark, MD, the company’s Chief Medical Officer who is a member of NASA’s Constellation Program EVA Systems Standing Review Board and was a Space Shuttle Crew Surgeon from 1997 to 2005 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This, just to name a few.
To add still more legitimacy, the company has formed contractor and other alliances the world over with organizations such as Houston-based United Space Alliance (co-owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and responsible for operating and processing the Space Shuttle fleet and the International Space Station); Tokyo-based Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation (involved in the operations HTV, Japan’s unmanned resupply spacecraft to the ISS) , Moscow-based NPOM (the original designer of Almaz) and Rice University in the US.
From the standpoint of technical expertise, Excalibur Almaz is very capable of placing private citizens into space. The open question at this point is its source of startup funds. Also, the company has not quoted prices for seats or elaborated on the flight profiles other than to say that they will be orbital. There’s also the obvious question of a destination, which they have not yet stated as a part of the flight but through which many companies wishing to establish orbiting hotels could gain their first access to space. Still, the fact that a private company will be offering orbital trips represents are huge leap forward in the Space Industrial Revolution.
It’s easy to envision a partnership with another commercial entity such as Bigelow Aerospace, designers and builders of space habitat modules, two of which are on orbit now and have established proof-of-concept over thousands of successful orbits, and with a third, much larger version in the developmental stage.
Carry the plan just a little further, and one could envisage a complete offering whereby SpaceX, Builders of the Falcon rocket, offer the booster for getting into orbit, Excalibur Almaz provides the spacecraft and Bigelow Aerospace rounds out the service by providing a destination – an orbiting hotel, if you will. This would require a great deal of cooperation, but it’s really not too different from the kinds of cooperation we see in play right now in the terrestrial-based tourism industry, in which hotels, airlines, cruise lines, bus services and car rental companies all work together to provide a complete, end-to-end service offering.
And now Excalibur Almaz adds its name to the rapidly-growing list of private space flight providers including Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, Galactic Suite, XCOR, Spaceport America and Spaceport Sweden. The space adventures we dreamt of as children are materializing before our eyes, thanks to the Space Industrial Revolution. Today, you can book a flight to the edge of space or a 10-day stay on the International Space Station. Soon, you’ll be able to stay at an orbiting hotel and – hang on to your hat – there are plans to offer a trip to circumnavigate the moon!
While NASA and other civil agencies are scratching their heads and pondering how to remain relevant, the commercial sector is planning bold, new ventures that take not only the elite but the common man into space. Once again, we see that past is prologue.