By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor
Art Dula was at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s 3rd European Space Tourism Conference in London this week, promoting Excalibur Almaz (EA) and announcing an agreement with XCOR Aerospace for crew training.
Based upon what I have read, EA’s latest plan for using surplus Soviet-era space stations and capsules sounds pretty awesome. A flight to the moon and back for the low, low price of $150 million. Pricey, but definitely on the mega-cool side of the spectrum.
But, then again, the company’s plans always sound pretty cool. And then…well…
The problem is that this is at least the third iteration of the company’s plan to use its left-over Cold War hardware for a commercial space venture. The first involved space tourism trips into Earth orbit. But, there is apparently not enough of a market there and the competitors, specifically Bigelow Aerospace, are offering roomier, up-to-date accommodations.
The company then pitched the system as a solution for NASA’s commercial crew needs, but that prospect seems to have faded lately. NASA’s evaluation during the last funding round was that although the proposal was clever, it was also deficient in a number of areas. One key problem could be that the capsule only carries four astronauts whereas the other proposals have seven crew members.
And now Dula is promising the moon. Literally. He has a market study from Futron showing a market exists. And he’s ready to sell tickets.
Throughout all the years and iterations, one nagging question has never gone away. Does this company have any actual money behind it? My sense is not very much. Or at least not enough. It appears that they are still chasing investors and ticket holders.
I could be wrong, but the lunar travel market seems even further off than the Earth orbit market. I can’t even recall how long Space Adventures has been promoting its plan to send a pair of billionauts around the moon in a modified Soyuz. To date, they have managed to sell only one of the two tickets needed to make the flight a reality.
I wish EA all the luck in the world. I mean it. For even one of these companies to succeed, that legitimizes the entire industry. It’s good for everyone. What I’ve seen to date, however, makes me skeptical about EA’s prospects. And I hope I’m wrong.