Nationality: United Kingdom (Isle of Man)
First flight: test flights expected 2013, commercial flights in 2015
Excalibur Almaz plans to resurrect the world’s first reusable spacecraft to make week-long trips to orbit for a crew of three, with the potential for longer trips visiting two space stations if the programme is a success.
The Almaz programme consisted of a reusable return vehicle (RRV), service module and the Almaz military space station. Excalibur Almaz has purchased four RRVs and two unused space stations, which are being refitted with modern avionics and life support to supplement their flight-proven hardware. The RRVs will be designed to fly on a range of expendable launch vehicles from locations around the world.
The Excalibur Almaz RRV and service module in orbit
The RRV and service module can support a crew in orbit for up to a week, and the RRV is designed to fly at last 10 missions in its lifetime. They were intended to operate independently and as both crew and cargo transports to the Almaz stations, but for political reasons, the system was never flown as intended.
Three Almaz stations, 11m long by 4m in diameter, were placed in orbit from 1973 under the guise of Russia’s civilian Salyut space programme, and the RRV and its service module flew both independently and together several times between 1976 and 1985. Although unmanned, these included repeat flights of the resuable modules and a successful live test of the launch escape system when a carrier rocket failed.
The Excalibur Almaz RRV on display
Unlike any other commercial manned launch programme, Excalibur Almaz will be using flight-tested hardware, which should considerably reduce the time to required to begin live flights. The service module will feature a large window, and provide space for the crew to live in, which should offset the rather cramped proportions of the RRV capsule. Excalibur Almaz expects that two paying passengers will fly with a professional astronaut or cosmonaut commander, and its staff already includes one cosmonaut once trained to fly the original RRV.
Excalibur Almaz has yet to present a price for its flights, which will depend greatly on the cost of its launch partners. If the company can sustain a flight rate of six per year for its RRVs, it will have an economic case for launching the Alamaz space stations. The current schedule is for an unmanned test flight by the end of 2013, manned test flight in 2014 and a first commercial manned flight in 2015.
A schematic of the RRV and a full-size Almaz space station
All images copyright Excalibur Almaz