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Moon Space Science

Space Tourist Trips To the Moon May Fly On Recycled Spaceships 95

thomst writes "Rob Coppinger of reports that UK-based private company Excalibur Almaz plans to offer commercial lunar-orbital tourist missions based on recycled Soviet-era Soyuz vehicle and Salyut space stations, using Hall Effect thrusters to power the ensemble from Earth orbit to the Moon and back. The company estimates ticket prices at $150 million per seat (with a 50% profit margin), and expects to sell about 30 of them. Excalibur Almaz has other big plans, too, including ISS crew transport, Lagrange Point scientific missions, and Lunar surface payload deliveries. It expects to launch its first tourist trip to the Moon in 2014."
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Space Tourist Trips To the Moon May Fly On Recycled Spaceships

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  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@wo[ ] ['rld' in gap]> on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:51PM (#40499851) Homepage Journal

    Trips around the moon for paying tourists in 2 years time? Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

    • by jhoegl ( 638955 )
      The number of people who have 150 mill to drop is pretty tiny as well, then you factor in who of those that would actually want to go.

      Im going to go ahead and put my implausibility meter to full
      • Well instead of giving CEOs a huge bone us, or a golden parachute when they leave their beleaguered companies, many may find the idea of blasting them into space a refreshing concept.

    • You know,for 20 x $150M, you could probably fake the trip pretty well.
    • My first thoughts were "Who?". Then "What launches have they already done?"

      All I could find is that they're using recycled Soviet spacecraft and space station(s). That's fine and dandy. Just because you buy a bunch of hardware, it doesn't mean you have a functional space program. From what I read, the don't, and aren't planning, any sort of launch system. They'll be dependent on someone elses rockets. I guess that saves a lot of headaches, assuming they can buy enough

    • For the price of the trip several dozen well-heeled millionaires can pool their resources to send a low-flying satellite that would send back hi-res photos and images of, say, the Apollo landing site or the poles of the moon. Because that is all that a trip AROUND the moon is going to get you, tourist photos and videos with no hard rock souvenirs you can hang around your neck to prove you're were a lunar explorer.
    • by EEPROMS ( 889169 )
      also with Russian corruption reaching 20% of GDP and the sliding internation perception of corruption now 154th out of 178 (higher is worse) you have to wonder about any investment made in that nation now. Even BP is sick of all the corruption and back sliding that they have pulled out even though russia is up to it's eye balls in natural resources. []
  • ...but she's got it where it counts, kid.
    • Yes, but can it make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs?
      • Yes, but can it make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs?

        Only if you can fit it into Millennium Falcons cargo hold.

    • by neminem ( 561346 )

      An immortal line. Still, I prefer instead quoting:
      "You buy this ship, treat her proper, she'll be with you the rest of your life."
      "That's because it's a death trap."

  • Not that it makes any real difference to me, I guess... It's not like I have a spare $150 mill.
    • If they only promise you a "flight to the moon and back", without ever leaving the capsule, they don't have to cut a deal with NASA to rent the sound stage that was used to fake the lunar landings back in the 60s and 70s.

      I understand that NASA has since replaced the gray sand on that set with red sand in preparation for "manned Mars landings".

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        You are, I presume, being deliberately ironic. The notion that the Apollo lunar landings were faked does not stand up to even modest logical scrutiny.
  • Space Racketeers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekpowa ( 916089 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:01PM (#40499971)

    Several articles on /. along these lines recently. Humble beginnings from actual private space enterprise closely followed by science fiction from space charletons.

    • science fiction from space charletons

      Charleton's Chews, I used to love those things.

      Here's a free tip: don't try to use words in print that you've never seen in print without a dictionary. I hear there's some free ones on the internets.

      • Thanks for the free tip. I always appreciate it when intellectually superior people condescend to take a few moments of their precious time, usually employed in the grand betterment of humanity, to point out my minor errors and mental deficiencies. It is a humbling and awe inspiring experience. Thank you again.
        • I always appreciate it when intellectually superior people condescend to take a few moments of their precious time, usually employed in the grand betterment of humanity, to point out my minor errors and mental deficiencies.

          Well, it's a tedious job, but someone has to do it. Of course, if you don't want help, and just want to go through your life looking like a total chucklehead simply because you won't accept some help because you're so fucking great already, that's totally your prerogative, and I'll try to remember not to interfere with it.

          • I genuinely appreciated the learn. Charlatan it is; yes I agree looks much better. Try not to get too upset because I reciprocated an equivalent level rudeness and arrogance that you initially expressed by pointing out my innoculous spelling error. Very classy behaviour on your behalf considering many visitors to this site are ELSers. ( English happens to be my first language and I freely admit that inspite of that I am a quite clumsy with it. )
            • Try not to get too upset

              Too upset for what?

              Very classy behaviour on your behalf considering many visitors to this site are ELSers.

              It's good advice no matter what language you're writing.

            • by joelleo ( 900926 )


              Yeah, there's lots of us. If you don't like it don't make stupid spelling mistakes in forums known for their arrogant masses.

              • If such precision is important to you, then do as you must I will do my best to accommodate the delicate sensitivities of the arrogant masses and be a little more careful when posting comments. I personally don't take any issue with such critique. But if anyone feels the urge to be snarky and unnecessarily rude about these sort of things, then they need to expect their attitude to be repaid in kind.
                • by joelleo ( 900926 )

                  Your concern should be less about upsetting the "delicate sensitivities of the arrogant masses" and more about not appearing to be a moron when you're trying to impart something you feel is insightful and worthy of discourse and commentary. People will be more likely to pay attention and respond thoughtfully to your insights if your spelling and grammar are at least indicative of a certain minimum level of thought behind your posts.

                  • Given that the mods received my original comment favourably, your argument is not very compelling. As for whether or not looking stupid should be a concern, it comes down to how important it is to you to win the respect of people who so readily and passionately castigate you over minor infractions and trivialities. I only covert the respect of people I in turn respect. Though I will happily call out uncivil conduct, sometimes with a tone proportionate to the original behaviour.
                    • Man, this whole thread could have been avoided if drinky had just stuck a " :-P " in his spelling correction. Internationally recognized symbol for "I'm being a snarky douche, but don't take it too seriously." :-P

    • Sooner or later there will be viable space tourism, and further exploration. Having commerce dipping in it will only make development go a lot faster than if you have to wait for NASA to do it.

      I just finished rewatching Firefly. It's a bit further in the future, but when they talked about recycled space ships, for some reason I immediately had to think of Serenity.

  • for the privilege of spending days in outer space in a recycled soviet era capsule with absolutely no backup for rescue does not really sound like a good idea to me.
    • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:32PM (#40500171)

      When you're 60+ years old and have tons of money, but not that much time left on the Earth, you don't really worry so much about the risk of such ventures. Just being able to go to the Moon is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and only a very tiny number of people have even done it so far. Just like it wouldn't be that hard to find people willing to take a one-way trip to Mars despite the extreme risk there, I don't think they'll have much trouble finding people willing to take the risk of traveling to the Moon in a recycled Soviet capsule (esp. if they can do it once successfully to prove they can do it). The question is if they'll find enough people with the required funds willing to do it; however, the Russians didn't have that much trouble finding rich people willing to spend $20M on a ticket to LEO, so it's possible.

      • by siddesu ( 698447 )
        This is probably what the business is speculating, not what the reality is. The less time you have, the more you value it, and spending it on a long and tedious training for a few days in the worst conditions you've endured in your life for a view may not appeal to many.
      • When you're 60+ years old and have tons of money, but not that much time left on the Earth

        Here in the 21st century, if you live in the developed world and have that kind of money... you have plenty of time left on Earth. Heck, even without that kind of money the odds are you still have plenty of time left on Earth.
        So this 'excuse' is bogus.

        • It depends on exactly how old you are, and what kind of genetics you have. If you're 70, even if you're super-rich, you likely only have about 15-20 years left at the most, and a lot of that is going to be just puttering around a golf course. You're not going to miss that much if you decide to risk that for a trip to the Moon and you don't succeed in returning.

          • Yeah. After all, you won't miss your family, or your friends, or.. you're a clueless idiot.

            • Yes, because mega-wealthy people like Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs are such selfless, caring, family-loving people who are more interested in being good grandfathers than doing whatever makes them happy, and if they were 75 wouldn't dare risk their lives and deprive their grandchildren of another 10 years of their warm presence.

              You clueless idiot.

      • So, how low of an orbit would you have to be in to pop the hatch, jump towards the surface, and have your corpse end up on the moon?

        I mean, yeah, you'd be dead, but you'd be a legend. Most epic suicide ever.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      with absolutely no backup for rescue

      That's space for you. There's very rarely another rocket on the pad ready to go in the next week or two. The ISS (and Mir before it) of course has a docked vehicle that can make a descent but any problems on the way up are potentially a one way trip.
      On the other hand, the obvious scam is obvious. You can't make a rocket appear instantly by just adding money. It takes time to build those launchers even if you've got the distraction to the marks of the middle step alrea

  • by bdwoolman ( 561635 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:08PM (#40500019) Homepage

    No? Okay. I'm easy going. I take no for an answer. I understand.

    Soooo, I have this great bridge [] I want to sell you.

  • by MLCT ( 1148749 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @06:37PM (#40500215)
    It would be interesting to recast the entire "space tourism" options in terms of energy costs.

    I wonder just how much of the "costs" are associated with each element of a trip (not specifically the trip in TFA, which I haven't read). I would guess that energetically, getting out of the earth's gravity well is going to cost by far the most - beyond that (and presuming infrastructure is in place - a big presumption I know), energetically things become easier. I guess what I am musing on is whether space tourism might become something slightly feasible if there is a destination.

    Beyond weightlessness and seeing the earth's curvature, super rich paying to go to the ISS has always seemed like a bit of a dead-end. The ISS isn't for tourists, and so you are left with a mental image of them floating about on a science base just throwing money about the place and everyone else going "who is the dick with the cash on-board?". Now if the destination was specifically a tourist moon base and you went there for a month then it might seem like it had some sort of point. Fixed costs to get that running would be crazy - but ongoing costs might be affordable (energy from PV, moon H2O providing water & oxygen - with full reclamation).

    Wishful thinking that it would ever happen or that I would have enough money to do it if it did exist! But better to do that than what has been allowed to happen in society over the last 30 years of sitting about becoming a reductive species, more interested in silly gewgaws than true hope and progress.
  • ...Eat recycled food! It's good for you, and it's good for the environment!
  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @07:06PM (#40500445)

    Hall effect thrusters are NOT high thrust devices. He's not talking three days to Luna, more like three MONTHS.

    Each way.

    Somehow, I'm not seeing this as terribly practical.

    • if that's the time frame. I'm pretty sure there is not enough space on those old capsules for the food, water and air needed for that length of time.
    • As I noted below [], hall effect thrusters are an odd choice for this kind of mission, but no, it wouldn't be months. They're talking about 100KW thrusters. Those would be able to get you there in days to weeks, not months. Still, I don't see the logic in them. You lose a lot of the thrusters' specific impulse efficiency by having to use a crap transfer trajectory.

      The optimal transfer injection burn is a short, very strong impulse, not a long gentle one. A worst case (continuous burn all the way there, ju

      • They're talking about 100KW thrusters. Those would be able to get you there in days to weeks, not months.

        100 KW thruster, assuming pretty near 100% efficiency - about 25 pounds thrust.

        Salyut-3 (chosen arbitrarily) - ~19000kg. Plus reaction mass, of course.

        Acceleration, not counting reaction mass - ~0.00001g.

        Time to escape speed (assuming escape speed actually works the same for low acceleration as it does for high acceleration - it doesn't) - ~55 days.

        Note that the deltaV required for escape speed is ~

        • 100 KW thruster, assuming pretty near 100% efficiency - about 25 pounds thrust.

          Can you show your work on that? I did some questionable math and came up with ~5000N. Reading the hall effect thruster article [] suggests 1.35kW produces 83 mN. That certainly sounds like you're much closer than I, but I'd just like to see how you got there. If it's true, you're right: that's a completely unreasonable for transfers, and would only be useful for minor corrections to existing trajectories.

          • Can you show your work on that? I did some questionable math and came up with ~5000N.

            Hmm, 16000 m/s exhaust speed assumed. Which is typical for Hall-effect thrusters.

            So, m*v^2/2 = energy required.

            m = 200,000 W/v^2 = 200,000W/256,000,000 m^2/s^2.

            m = 0.0008 kg/s

            thrust = exhaust speed * mass flow rate. 16000 * 1/1280 = 12.5 N. Hmm, left the decimal off the 2.5 pounds thrust, I see.

            Pick a lower exhaust speed, get more mass flow rate for a given power input, of course. But to get 5000 N, you're talking

  • Hall effect thrusters have a good specific impulse and a great reliability record, but they have thrust in the milliNewton range, which means 6 months to a year or so to get to the Moon. Now, you could imagine putting a whole bunch of them together to get a higher thrust, but then, where is Excalibur going to get the 100 megawatts or so they would need for reasonable trip times?

    Excalibur would be better off trying to get some of the flight qualified NERVA rockets refurbished, or do what Space Adventures [] p

    • Excalibur would be better off trying to get some of the flight qualified NERVA rockets refurbished

      Actually, that is exactly what Musk is pushing NASA to do. And NASA is wanting to do it.

  • by subreality ( 157447 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @09:47PM (#40501351)

    For those unfamiliar with the tradeoffs: Hall effect thrusters make fairly efficient use of the reaction mass - about 2000s, compared to ~250 for solid rockets or ~300-400 for liquid rockets. That means a considerable increase in your delta-v - since you only need 10-20% as much reaction mass for the same impulse, you get 5-10x more delta-v. Great, right?

    The trouble is that you need a power source. Liquid fuel rockets just burn the propellant. Hall effect thrusters (and other ion thrusters) need a power source in addition to the propellant.

    This is a great tradeoff for stationkeeping on satellites - you only need tiny amounts of thrust, so you can easily generate enough power using solar cells or a RTG. Thus the very efficient use of reaction mass means a much longer useful life, or more useful payload in your satellite for a given launch mass, etc. It's just plain more efficient.

    But this isn't like that. They seem to want to use them to perform the Hohmann tranfer []. That means having a very high thrust for a short duration - not just because you want to get there more quickly, but because it's much more efficient than a long continuous burn.

    They're talking about 100KW. That seems low. Ballpark 5000 newtons of thrust... Compare to the Apollo command/service module at ~90,000 newtons. Thus they'll need a fairly long burn at that power. How the heck are they generate that kind of power for a long duration?

  • "To the moon, Alice!"

    Alice: "Okay."

  • Excalibur Almaz is NOT a UK company. It is an Isle of Man (or Manx) company. It's been said for a few years that the Isle of Man is the fifth most likely country to be next to put a man on the moon. I guess this project is part of that.

    • The reason the Isle of Man [] is a hub for this kind of activity is because it's a a tax haven. It's not a continent sized country full of engineers, launch facilities and research universities: more like 200 square miles in total. So while it might be the fifth most likely country to put somebody on the moon, this is mostly because it's an attractive place to have your offices.

      By this rationale, I guess Monaco, Liechtenstein, Andorra and the Seychelles are more likely to put a man on the moon than the USA, Ru

      • Ah, the old 'tax haven' meme. The Isle of Man may have a lower tax regime than your locality, but according to the OECD (amongst others) it actually it is one of the most well regulated financial jurisdictions in the world, and it has tax transparency agreements with virtually all the mainstream (and a lot of less mainstream) countries too. And certainly better than that dirty little secret : the 'corporate and tax haven' that is Delaware. (Have you any idea just how easy it is to create a blind trust in De

      • by cffrost ( 885375 )

        [...] it would be quite fun if the Manx flag did fly on the moon [...]

        Is that some kind of running joke?

  • Amazing fact: in a world of vapor projects Excalibur-Almaz is one of the few new-space companies with flight proven hardware. The VA capsules and TKS modules are heritage Soviet equipment with upgrades. This is some of the finest spacecraft designed by one of the greats of the early space age.

    Hopefully they actually get to (lunar) orbit with paying customers. Also, 15X reusability plus integration on Falcon has strong cost implications after first flight.

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