British-based Excalibur Almaz has lifted the lid on its plan to transport paying passengers and cargo to the moon within the next three years.
The Isle of Man space exploration company has a fleet of six vintage Russian-built spacecraft, which it wants to use to take people into deep space — if they can put up the £100m fare.
"Excalibur Almaz is willing and able to send crewed missions deeper into space than would be possible aboard any other spacecraft in existence today," company founder Art Dula said on Tuesday. "Our fleet of space stations and re-entry capsules enable us to safely fly members of the public to the moon by 2015."
Dula was speaking at an event in London to show off its re-useable re-entry vehicles (RRVs), one of which is shown above. The company has four RRV capsules and two Salyut-class space stations, comparable to the Zarya module used in the International Space Station, it said.
The plan is to use the RRVs — essentially a sort of space taxi — to dock with a space station in Low Earth Orbit, and then use the combination as a transportation system to the moon, asteroids and deep space.
Each RRV is on the snug side and has room for three passengers at a time, one of whom will be an experienced cosmonaut.
Excalibur Almaz has been testing the spacecraft since it purchased the equipment from NPO Mashinostroyenia. The Russian firm supplied the Almaz space programme, including nine successful capsule flights, re-entries and landings, in the 1970s.
Launches will be on a Soyuz-FG rocket, according to a spokesman for Excalibur Almaz. They will take off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the launch site for already completed test flights. However, the company is looking at four alternative launch locations to help keep costs down, the spokesman said.
Unlike other space exploration missions, Excalibur Almaz is re-using systems and products from the European, Russian and US space programmes in order to keep costs and development time to a minimum.
"There is not a single other vessel, owned by a government or the private sector, that is suitable for manned mission to lunar orbit, utilising proven technologies. The Excalibur Almaz fleet has previously flown to space several times and will undertake many more missions. It contains vessels of a design that has spent thousands of hours in space successfully," Dula said.
Other commercial space projects are under way, but with less lofty ambitions than reaching the moon. SpaceX has broken ground by sending a commercial cargo ship to the International Space Station, while Virgin Galactic expects to take 50 space tourists into Low Earth Orbit next year.
Excalibur Almaz says the RRV capsules are useable for another 15 space flights, if they undergo minor modernisation requiring a "comparatively modest investment over three years". The space stations are also estimated to offer up to 15 more years of use.