NASA's roster of partners developing commercial vehicles to fly astronauts has expanded to include Houston-based Excalibur Almaz, Inc., which plans to fly upgraded versions of capsules originally designed to serve Soviet military space stations.
The new partners signed a Space Act Agreement that includes no NASA funding but allows collaboration between engineering teams.
A NASA statement says the company's system for flying crews to the International Space Station would use its planned reusable, three-person space tourist vehicle with an intermediate stage, flown on a commercially available launch vehicle to be determined.
Excalibur Almaz is the seventh company to partner with NASA in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev-2.
The agency has funded agreements worth about $270 million this year with spacecraft developers Blue Origin, The Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX, and unfunded agreements with launch vehicle providers ATK and United Launch Alliance.
"We are pleased to add Excalibur Almaz to the group of CCDev-2 companies and look forward to a productive partnership," said Brent Jett, deputy manager of the Commercial Crew Program.
Excalibur Almaz's senior management includes Leroy Chao, a former NASA shuttle astronaut, ISS commander and member of the Augustine Committee whose recommendations encouraged a U.S. policy shift to flying crews commercially.
Under the agreement, NASA said the company would perform reviews by May 2012 of systems requirements status, launch vehicle compatibility, testing plans and status, and overall status of the design, operational and facilities plans, and integration status.
NASA will provide feedback and limited technical support.