Excalibur Almaz has detailed its plans to launch spacecraft to space stations in orbit around the moon, the first time the secretive company has done so publically.
The British company will use legacy Russian hardware, capsules from the Soviet Soyuz space programme and space stations from Salyut, to launch people into orbit around the moon. Both capsules and stations will undergo upgrades, but the basic hardware has flown in space up to nine times, and is described by Excalibur CEO Art Dula as have a technical readiness level of nine, the highest possible.
The capsules will initially be launched by Russian Soyuz FG launch vehicles from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Once in low Earth orbit (LEO), the capsules will dock with a Salyut station, which will use electric Hall thrusters to propel itself into orbit around the moon.
Four capsules, left over from the Soviet Union's secret military Soyuz programme, which ran in parallel to the better-known civilian programme, have been purchased and shipped to Excalibur's facilities on the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom, as have two Salyut stations in various phases of construction.
"Our company is positioned now to seek partners, customers and investors for our first flight," says Dula. "That's why we're making it public now."
Extensive testing on the 30-year-old capsules indicates that "we could fly these reusable vehicles to orbit at least up to 15 times, on 15 missions, without refurbishment of the thermal protection system. This is an extremely robust system," says Dula.
The company signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA to exchange technical expertise. SAAs have generally been signed with companies hoping to gain NASA contracts, which Excalibur CEO Dula says the company is not currently interested in doing.
Studies conducted on the company's behalf by Futron, a space economics consultancy, showed that the business case for cislunar activities was significantly better than LEO-only flights if conducted without government funding.
"We are going to create a transportation system that can transport products, payloadsand can carry crew between the Earth and LEO, and earth orbit and the moon. So we have a cislunar space system. Our business objectives follow directly from that."