Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jurby -- The Final Frontier


Schools and the public could soon be going to Jurby for an experience that would be out of this world.
And in a few years’ time, a space station owned by Manx-registered Excalibar Almaz could be operating as a hotel – 400km up in space.
The company is storing two former Russian space stations in a hangar at Jurby Airfield. Measuring about 11 metres long and four metres in diameter, the Almaz space stations are directly related to earlier Russian Salyut and Mir space stations, which have a proven track record in space.
They feature the largest window ever developed for a spacecraft – providing a panoramic two-metre-wide view.
The eventual plan is to have a permanent orbital platform which tourists would travel to and stay in.
The first step is to develop a Reusable Re-entry Vehicle (RRV) that would transport people into orbit and back.
The next step is for tourists to be able to stay in space for a few days aboard a small habitat module attached to the RRV.
Once that’s proven to be economically viable the company would establish a permanent space station, using the newer of the two Almaz modules at Jurby.
It could be visited by up to six groups per year, some of which may run scientific experiments.
Cosmonaut Colonel Valery Tokarev, who was commander on the 2005-2006 Soyuz mission to the International Space Station, said he could be the commander on one of the test missions into space, which it is hoped will take place in about 2014.
Colonel Tokarev, who is a Hero of the Russian Federation, said people with the money – expected to be about $30-35 million – would be ready for blast off after about six months’ training.
And only ‘normal’ fitness levels would be required, compared with the rigorous training cosmonauts undertake.
Colonel Tokarev, who was also part of a 1999 mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station ahead of the arrival of the first crew to live there, said going into space wasn’t scary.
He said: ‘If you know your job it’s not scary.
‘Every time you have to be careful because it’s risky.’
He said being in space was a ‘great feeling’ – with weightlessness meaning ‘it’s so easy to move’.
The other space station at Jurby was ready to go into space.
Almaz, which means ‘diamond’ in Russian, was a Soviet Union military space programme and comprised an orbital manned space station, transport vehicles, reusable spacecraft designed to carry a cargo of three, a cargo capsule delivering information to Earth, and ground support facilities.
While parts of the space complex were successfully tested both on the ground and in space, the space station didn’t make it into orbit. This space station will be refurbished as a display piece.
Tim Craine, business development agency director of the Department of Economic Development, said: ‘It’s great for the island to have this type of equipment here. It’s tangible evidence of the direction the Isle of Man is going in, in terms of developing its space industry.’
The public will be able to visit the space stations in the summer.
For Excalibar’s launch in 2009, the company displayed at King William’s College, Castletown, an ex-Soviet RRV purchased from Russian space company NPO Mashinostroyenia. The company is a truly international venture, gathering astronauts, cosmonauts and technical experts from Russia and the United States.

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