In 2009, while other commercial spaceflight companies were working towards providing services for a suborbital tourism market, Excalibur Almaz made a splash when it announced plans to provide week long stays in low Earth orbit to space tourists. Excalibur Almaz founder and CEO Art Dula seemed to walk away from that goal in a speech at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) on May 27, indicating that the company will instead aim to take tourists to the moon.
Excalibur Almaz’s initial business plan called for flying two tourists to low Earth orbit where they would stay for one week before returning to Earth. The trip would cost passengers $35 million per ticket. Excalibur Almaz had expected to begin test flights in 2012 and carry its first passengers in 2013.
With the new announcement, Excalibur Almaz now plans to offer a trip to lunar orbit for a ticket price of $100 million. The company expects to sell 29 such tickets over a ten year period. They are targeting not just passengers, but potential commercial cargo needs as well.
“Using the modular architecture of our spacecraft and service/cargo modules, Excalibur Almaz transportation systems will provide the lowest development risk approach to create the first step in the infrastructure needed to provide commercially viable business activities in space, including asteroid and lunar mining, research and lunar and planetary exploration,” said Dula.
Dula seemed to back away from involvement in ferrying International Space Station crew. Excalibur Almaz is one of six companies currently participating in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The unfunded Space Act Agreement concluded between NASA and Excalibur Almaz in October 2011 expires May 2012.
Excalibur Almaz’s business model relies on use of decommisioned Salyut-class spacecraft that the company purchased from Russia. Although those craft never carried crew, the company hopes that their space heritage will hasten the qualification process for manned flight. Excalibur Almaz currently owns four reusable reentry vehicles and two station pressure vessels similar to components of the Mir station and the Zarya module on ISS. Test flight dates have not been released.
The video below, courtesy of Excalibur Almaz, reviews the history of the Soviet Almaz military program on which the company’s technology is based: