Houston Press has a long, sad look at one of the more curious NewSpace projects, Excalibur Almaz, and the man behind it, Art Dula.
Excalbur Almaz is a company based in the Isle of Man whose goal is to refurbish a couple of Soviet-era Almaz space stations and four crew return capsule for some type of space mission. The company has gone through numerous iterations, from space tourism to commercial space station to NASA commercial crew to deep space mining facility.
So far they haven’t raised enough money for any of these ideas, although the company has generated a couple of investor lawsuits alleging fraud, one dismissed and the other still pending.
There are a couple very troubling allegations that are chronicled in the story. One is that the sales agreement between Excalbur Almaz and the Russian seller stipulated that the technology was not to be modified for space flight. This is alleged in a lawsuit filed by Japanese investor Takafumi Horie.
A couple of updates on Excalibur Almaz, whose Soviet-era space station and capsule were seen being shipped from one location to another on the Isle of Man. Excalibur Almaz Founder and CEO Art Dula told The Independent there wasn’t much to see there:
The company is “still in business and still on the Isle of Man,” he insisted. Refusing to divulge where the equipment is being taken, saying it is “a confidential business matter”. Mr Dula said: “There is a capsule on the Isle of Man, there is a space station on the Isle of Man and they are staying there. I was in communication yesterday with the transport museum in Jurby because we try to keep our equipment so that the public can see it. We think these are good educational exhibits… but they are not just museum exhibits, they are actual spacecraft.”
While “there aren’t any facilities on the Isle of Man for working on this equipment,” the company had gone there because “we got a very nice deal on rent from the Isle of Man government”.
But the lease ran out, which is why the equipment has been moved from the hangar at Jurby Airfield, he explained. There are no launch facilities on the Isle of Man either, which means that the company had never intended to launch missions from there anyway, Mr Dula said.
A report by IOMTodaycontradicted this report, reporting without attribution the space station and capsule are headed off the island:
This week its Soviet era space station and capsule were transported by JCK from storage at Balthane to the Sea Terminal, from where they are being shipped to Southampton and then onwards to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia….
The company said it was now working with the International Space University in Strasbourg to transform a space capsule into a reusable orbital laboratory used to research microgravity.
One of the company’s two space stations and its remaining return capsule has been seen heading for the Isle of Man’s port on the back of a truck. The company’s phone number has been disconnected. And the company hasn’t put out a press release since July 2012.
The departure of a Russian space station from the Isle of Man signifies the “end of Manx space tourism,” according to a government minister.
Space exploration and tourism company Excalibur Almaz imported two capsules in 2011 and planned to use them for space holidays costing £100m.
The company was unavailable to comment on where the 11m (36ft) long space station, built in the 1980s, is going….
Manx Economic Development Minister Laurence Skelly said: “I am saddened to see the end of the potential space tourism project – however it is not the end of the Isle of Man’s space industry which is alive and well.”
Excalibur Almaz hoped to use two leftover Soviet-era Almaz space stations and a pair of return capsules to launch its own space program. The company had a difficult time finding anyone to fund the program. Last year, the company auctioned off one of the return capsules.
Along the way, Excalibur Almaz has been sued twice [here and here] by investors for alleged fraud. The company and its founders, Art Dula and J Buckner Hightower, have denied the claims.
IOMToday reports that Excalibur Almaz is denying charges that it fraudulently took funds from an investor to use Soviet-era space hardware for human stations:
“These allegations are baseless and will be vigorously defended. To set the record straight, Excalibur Almaz is not out of business and is vigorously pursuing a profitable commercial space program utilizing proven Russian flight hardware capable of re-use, contrary to recent allegations.”
In a lawsuit, Japanese investor Takafumi Horie accused Excalibur Almaz founders Art Dula and J Buckner Hightower of misleading him in order to obtain a $49 million investment in the company. Horie says the Soviet-era Almaz space station hardware the company purchased were museum pieces that could never be launched into space.
Art Dula is facing another lawsuit alleging fraud connected with Excalibur Almaz, a company that has been seeking to use old Soviet space station hardware for commercial purposes.
The lawsuit, Takafumi Horie v. The Law Offices of Art Dula, which was filed Nov. 10 in a Harris County district court, alleges that attorney Art Dula convinced Takafumi Horie that he could set up a commercial space transportation program to carry people and cargo into a low Earth orbit by using Russian-made Almaz class space craft.
The lawsuit also alleges that Art Dula used his position as trustee for the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust [Heinlein was a prolific science fiction author who was famous for writing about manned space exploration] to “get new business.” The lawsuit also alleges that Dula took $49 million of the investor’s money and put it into his IOLTA account for Horie’s “Japan Space Dream” business. But according to the petition, that business was only to remain a dream.
“Dula never intended to engage in a commercial space program, and in fact continually misrepresented, concealed facts and defrauded his client Takafumie Horie d/b/a Japanese Space Dream,” according to the petition which alleges fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty among other things.
The petition alleges that Horie learned the investment was a “sham” when he learned that Dula had allegedly sold a Russian spacecraft at auction that “was only suitable for display in a museum, and not as a potential flight vehicle as had been falsely represented to plaintiff Horie from the beginning.”
Via Clark Lindsey at NewSpace Watch: A Texas woman has sued Art Dula and Excalibur Almaz over for allegedly defrauding her and her late husband in an asteroid mining scheme:
Donna Beck sued Houston patent attorney Arthur Dula, his companies Excalibur Exploration Limited, Excalibur Limited, Excalibur Almaz Limited and Excalibur Almaz USA Inc., and Excalibur directors J. Buckner Hightower and Christopher Stott, in Harris County Court.
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…
For the man who has everything, including his own rocketship, even more….
HEINLEIN PRIZE TRUST PR — Trustees of the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust announced today that the second-ever Heinlein Prize will go to Elon Musk, founder, CEO and CTO of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
The Heinlein Prize honors the memory of Robert A. Heinlein, a renowned American science fiction author. The purpose of the prize is to encourage and reward individuals for making practical contributions to the commercialization of space. Mr. Musk will be honored at a luncheon and award ceremony on June 29, 2011 at the Hyatt in Washington, DC and will receive $250,000, a gold Heinlein Medallion, the Lady Vivamus Sword (as described in Heinlein’s book Glory Road), and a Laureate’s Diploma.
Excalibur Almaz Limited (EA), an international space exploration company, today announced plans to open up a new era of private orbital space flight for commercial customers, using updated elements of the â€œAlmazâ€ space system originally developed by JSC MIC NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia.