The Long, Sad History of Excalibur Almaz

Excalibur Almaz's space tourism vehicle concept. (Credit: Excalibur Almaz)
Excalibur Almaz’s space tourism vehicle concept. (Credit: Excalibur Almaz)

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.

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NIAC Focus: In-Space Construction of 1g Growable Habitat

TENSOR construction of habitat, cross-sectional view of growth TENSOR. (Credit: R. Skelton)
TENSOR construction of habitat, cross-sectional view of growth TENSOR. (Credit: R. Skelton)

Tensegrity Approaches to In-Space Construction of a 1g Growable Habitat
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Phase II Award

Robert Skelton
Texas Engineering Experiment

This proposal seeks to design a rotating habitat with a robotic system that constructs the structure and provides a habitat growth capability. The tensegrity technology allows minimum mass of both the habitat and the robotic system. This proposal solves three unsolved space travel problems: a) growth, b) radiation protection, and c) gravity.

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China’s Satellite Launch Vehicle Surge

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

China is in the midst of an overhaul of its satellite launch capabilities, with the introduction of five new launch vehicles in just over two years.

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OSTP Recommends Giving Mission Approval Authority for FAA

georgenieldphoto1
George Nield

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has recommended to Congress that the Secretary of Transportation be given the power to provide mission authorizations for such non-traditional space activities as asteroid mining and private space stations, a FAA official revealed last week.

George Nield, FAA associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, said an authorization would stipulate that a mission is in compliance with U.S. space policy, foreign and national security considerations, and international treaty obligations.

Nield made his remarks last week during a meeting of FAA AST’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).

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China Plans Space Station, Crew Launches for Later This Year

Model of the Tiangong-2 space station
Model of the Tiangong-2 space station

China will end a three-year hiatus in human spaceflight late this year with the launch of the two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to the new Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese officials say. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.

Tiangong-2, which is set for launch sometime during the third quarter, is larger and more capable than the Tiangong-1 space station launched in 2011. The first station was visited by two three-person crews on missions lasting 12 and 15 days. The second crew landed in June 2013.

“We have specifically modified the interior of the new space lab to make it more livable for mid-term stays for our astronauts,” said Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” he added.

Tiangong-2 is similar in design and size to the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations flown in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The new Chinese station has docking ports at both ends to allow for resupply missions.

China plans to send up its new Tianzhou-1 supply ship during the first half of 2017 to verify propellant transfer and other key technologies. The cargo vehicle will be launched by the new medium-lift Long March-7 rocket, which is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.

Chinese officials are not discussing follow-on missions to Tiangong-2. However, some reports say that a second human mission and an additional cargo ship would be launched to the space station in 2018.

Officials also announced plans to launch the core of the permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018. The permanent facility will have multiple docking ports to allow for the docking of additional modules. Assembly of the space station is expected to be completed around 2022.

Bigelow Hires 2 Former NASA Astronauts

Bigelow_Alpha_ Station
Space News
reports that Bigelow Aerospace has hired former NASA astronauts Kenneth Ham and George Zamka as the Nevada company ramps up hiring:

Zamka comes to Bigelow Aerospace from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, where he was deputy associate administrator from March 2013, when he left NASA, through June 11. Zamka will remain in Washington to aid the company’s business development efforts with the U.S. and other governments, and serve as a company face for federal policymakers, Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, said in a July 9 phone interview.

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Bigelow Aerospace Seeks Astronaut-in-Space Simulation Participants

Bigelow_Alpha_ Station
Bigelow Aerospace
Closed Volume Spacecraft Simulation Crew Members

This is a part time position. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Duty Location: North Las Vegas, Nevada

Bigelow Aerospace seeks mature, well adjusted adult individuals with backgrounds in the social, psychological, behavioral, biological, nursing, engineering or crew systems sciences for astronaut-in-space simulation studies.

Qualifications:
Demonstrated expertise in detailed report writing with requested education background below.

US Citizens and Permanent Residents Only

Responsibilities:
The successful candidates will be expected to spend eight, sixteen or twenty four hour periods in a closed volume spacecraft simulation chamber. Candidates will live (eat, sleep and exercise) inside the chamber for defined periods of time and will be monitored continuously.

Successful candidates will be given structured daily tasks and schedules and will be expected to produce detailed daily reports on their activities and on their interactions with other crew members. The candidate will implement Bigelow Aerospace programs for quantifying, evaluating and optimizing crew systems, including process efficiencies, program quality and reporting on psychological, existential, social and environmental factors in spacecraft crews.

Education:
BS or MS in Social, Psychological, Behavioral, Biological, Nursing, Engineering, or Human Factors Sciences.

Apply Here

Video Interview with Robert Bigelow

Video Caption: Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace LLC, talks about his company’s inflatable module that will be tested on the International Space Station in 2015 and the outlook for space tourism. He speaks with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line”.

Bigelow Offering Private Space Station at a Fraction of ISS Cost

Bigelow_Alpha_ Station

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Hailing what it calls a “sea change” in space costs, Bigelow Aerospace has unveiled pricing information for governments, companies and individuals interested in using its planned private Alpha Space Station.

Transportation costs to the station begin at $26.25 million per seat for a 60-day visit. Leases for exclusive use and control over part of the space station begin at $25 million. Naming rights for the entire station will cost an additional $25 million per year.

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Robert Bigelow Congratulates SpaceX on Dragon Flight

Robert Bigelow

Congratulations SpaceX!
Statement From Robert T. Bigelow
June 4, 2012

“On behalf of all of us at Bigelow Aerospace congratulations to SpaceX on the successful completion of the Dragon’s historic demonstration mission to the International Space Station. Space operations are extraordinarily unforgiving, and for SpaceX to meet with such an unprecedented degree of success on their first attempt to visit the Station illustrates the company’s incredible capabilities and is a real tribute to the hard work and dedication of Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell, and the entire SpaceX team. Successful completion of this mission also represents a significant victory for the commercial crew program as a whole, and validates NASA’s current approach that avoids dependence on a single crew transportation provider and leverages the inherent efficiencies of the Space Act Agreement legal vehicle. The Dragon’s mission has been one small step for SpaceX, but is one giant leap for commercial space.”

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Excalibur Almaz Shoots for the Moon and Beyond

Excalibur Almaz's space tourism vehicle concept. (Credit: Excalibur Almaz)

Excalibur Almaz is looking beyond sending its Soviet-era space vehicles and stations into Earth orbit and is actively working on human missions to the moon, asteroids and lagrange points.

Excalibur Almaz CEO Art Dula outlined the company’s plans on Sunday during the International Space Development Conference in Washington. Based upon Twitter posts by attendees, here are the highlights:

  • The company has four reusable capsules (with four seats) and two space station pressure vessels that it is upgrading with modern technology
  • Planned services include crew and cargo transportation from Earth to LEO, lunar orbits and lagrange point 2 (L2)
  • EA is working with: MDA and Ad Astra (VASIMR engine) on asteroid rendezvous scenarios; ULA (launchers); Astrium (ATV-based propulsion system); NASA (Space Act Agreement on commercial crew); and Futron (marketing studies)
  • Company appears to be no longer interested in providing commercial crew services to ISS (more…)

China to Launch First Space Station Next Week

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

The Chinese Xinhua news agency reports that the nation will launch its first space station between Sept. 27 and 30.

The 8.5-metric ton Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace 1) is about half the size of the early Soviet Salyut space stations that were launched in the 1970s.  It will serve as docking target for three Shenzhou spacecraft. The first will dock unmanned to demonstrate that capability.  If that mission is successful, two crews will dock at the station and conduct experiments.

The launch of the station was delayed from early September because of a failure of a Long March rocket. Additional checks were required.

China Plans Early September Launch for Tiangong-1 Space Station

The Tiangong-1 space station with a Shenzhou spacecraft. Credit: CNSA

The People’s Daily reports:

According to an unnamed source in a position of authority in Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the remarkable Chinese unmanned space module Tiangong 1 will be launched soon.

However, because the experimental orbiter SJ-11-04, which was launched last week, failed to enter Earth’s orbit, the launch of Tiangong 1 has been postponed until early September.

 

Images: Robert Bigelow’s Ambitious Plans for Space

Robert Bigelow was the keynote speaker at the NSS Governors’ Dinner and Gala in Huntsville last night. Standing beneath a Saturn V in a city that forms the heart of opposition to NASA’s commercial approach to human spaceflight, the founder of Bigelow Aerospace laid out his ambitious plans to launch private space stations into orbit by the middle of the decade. The details are laid out in the photos below.

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