A re-entry capsule

Excalibur Almaz offering seats to the Moon

Excalibur Almaz, a British company, is offering seats to the Moon for a likely fare of around £100 million per person.

The first 500,000-mile round trip in a converted Soviet-era space station could take place as early as 2015.

Excalibur Almaz founder and chief executive Art Dula, speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, said: "We're ready to sell the tickets."

"Our fleet of space stations and re-entry capsules enables us to safely fly members of the public to moon orbit as early as 2015.”

US space entrepreneur Dula has acquired two Soviet "Almaz" space stations, designed for orbital spying operations. Thrusters attached to the stations will convert them to long-distance spaceships. Four re-entry capsules, or re-usable return vehicles (RRVs), will ferry three people at a time to the orbiting space station and return them to earth.

All the space vehicles - the cost of which is confidential - are housed in hangers on the Isle of Man. One of the RRVs is currently being exhibited outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster, London.

If the bold plan succeeds, the company will carry out the first manned moon mission since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The aim is for three people to fly to the moon, orbit the lunar surface and return safely to earth, parachuting to the ground in an RRV. Much of the actual flying will be computer-controlled and all necessary training, including the human skills needed to pilot the spacecraft, is provided in the package.

"Excalibur Almaz is willing and able to send crewed missions deeper into space than would be possible aboard any other spacecraft in existence today," said Dula.

A giant Russian Proton rocket, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will put the 30-tonne space station into orbit. One of the two Salyut-class space stations will be kept in reserve on the ground.

Smaller Soyuz FG launch vehicles will lift the shuttle capsules.

The station has 90 cubic metres of living space and provides a protected "refuge" where crew members can shelter in the event of a solar radiation storm.

Although the programme involves US personnel and Soviet technology, Dula sees it very much as a British enterprise. He says he chose the Isle of Man not only to take advantage of its tax benefits but because it is a hub of space industry. Of the 54 international space satellite companies, 30 are based on the island.

"Let's talk about being a space-faring society like we were a sea-faring society. It's exactly in the same vein as the historic exploration that was done by Europe and the British Isles over the last several centuries that resulted in so much growth,"  Dula told the meeting.

He has even more far-reaching plans to develop an entire private space programme serving governments, companies and members of the public. As well as expeditions to the moon, he envisages unmanned research missions, transportation of people and cargo, and chartered space exploration flights.

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