Excalibur Almaz Part of Investment Group Bailing Out Sea Launch


Sea Launch Investor Group Includes Familiar Names
Space News

The unidentified investor group providing initial financing to Sea Launch Co., the commercial launch provider that is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, includes an Isle of Man-based company created in 2005 to build a space tourism business using existing Russian hardware, according to industry officials.

The company, Excalibur Almaz Ltd., includes on its board several people who are well-known in the U.S. space industry, according to the company’s 2009 registration statement with the Isle of Man government. The company’s directors, according to the statement, include George W.S. Abbey, former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center; J. Buckner Hightower, described in company documents as chief fundraiser; Arthur McKee Dula, who has a long history of dealing with Russian space ventures; and Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut….

Excalibur Almaz was created in 2005 to refurbish Russia’s Almaz spacecraft and transform it into a capsule for week-long trips to space by paying customers. The company said it owns “several Almaz spacecraft, including reusable re-entry vehicles and space stations.”

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  • Michael Turner

    A fascinating development. If Sea Launch can put 6,000 kg into GTO, does could it put an Almaz (around 3x that mass) into LEO?

    Sea Launch could probably make its very competitively priced launches even cheaper if it were homeported on the coast of Brazil, an up-and-coming power that increasingly cooperates with the Russians and Ukrainians on space projects, and that increasingly hosts offshore oil platforms, making it almost pre-fit for the Sea Launch style. Brazil has also got ports near the equator. What if Sea Launch could get something flying almost overnight after leaving port, rather than 11 days out from Long Beach? What if it paid shore staff Brazilian-scale salaries rather than Los Angeles rates?

    I’m convinced that equatorial LEO is where orbital space tourism must eventually go — it can’t be piggybacked on ISS forever, and ISS is unlikely to be shifted to an equatorial orbital plane before retirement. Orbital space tourism should also be linked into a launch infrastructure that routinely serves the GEO comsat market as well, for economies of scale in launch operations. This Sea Launch + Excalibur Almaz linkup makes a lot of sense in those terms.

    Where Sea Launch falls down a little, still, is in its launch reliability record — about 90%. But it’s still a relative newcomer, hardly more than decade into routine operations. If it can get its sea legs back under it, and keep its launch rates up, it might be able to improve to the point of being persuasively man-rated. That could take some time, but I never believed the Excalibur Almaz PR about launching in 2012 anyway.