Space Tourism’s Next Destination May Be the Moon

Frank Sinatra would have been happy to learn that a U.K. company called Excalibur Almaz wants to literally fly folks to the Moon and back again. The catch&151it’ll cost a cool $150 million per ticket for a trip around Earth’s satellite and you’ll be flying in refurbished Soviet-era spacecraft built back in the 1970s.

The Isle of Man-based company announced its intentions late last month, according to futurist site i09.

Exalibur Almaz is led by chief executive Art Dula, the executor of the late science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s estate. The space start up has acquired two Salyut-class 63,800-pound space station cores and four three-person reusable reentry vehicles built in the 1970s for the Soviet Union’s public Salyut space station program and the secret Almaz military recon platforms the U.S.S.R also launched under the cover of the Salyut program.

The Salyut cores are the same spacecraft that formed the heart of the Mir space station and now provide living quarters and an operations base for crews aboard the International Space Station.

Excalibur Almaz

The company says it will spend the next 24 to 30 months refurbishing its spacecraft and developing new technologies for its proposed Moon tours, including an electric propulsion system for the trip to the Moon and protection from solar and cosmic radiation, the Christian Science Monitor reported. It that all works out, space tourists flying with Excalibur Almaz won’t land on the Moon like NASA’s Apollo astronauts but will instead zip around the satellite and head back home like the crew of the Apollo 13 mission did when their spacecraft was hobbled by an oxygen tank explosion.

Moon trips would begin as early as 2015. Dula said last month that his company could sell in the neighborhood of 30 tickets over the following decade for a a $4.5 billion haul, making half of its investment back in the first three years alone.

Excalibur Almaz plans to insert the space station cores into low Earth orbit atop a Proton rocket, while using the Soyuz-FG rockets that ferry crews up to the ISS to take passengers in Almaz RRVs up into space. The company is also open to using alternative rockets for its manned flights, such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Once in low Earth orbit, the Almaz spacecraft would dock with the space station cores, which would serve as the long-haul vehicles for the trip to the Moon and back. The reusable Almaz capsules would come along for the trip and then be used to travel back down to Earth.

For more from Damon, follow him on Twitter @dpoeter.

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