story was updated at 8:08 p.m. EDT.
privately-built space station prototype successfully launched into orbit
Thursday from a Russian missile base, kicking off the second test flight for
the U.S. firm Bigelow Aerospace.
an inflatable module laden with cameras, personal items and a Space Bingo game,
rocketed spaceward atop a Dnepr booster from a silo at Yasny Launch Base, an
active Russian strategic missile base in the country's Orenburg region. Liftoff
occurred at 11:02 a.m. EDT (1502 GMT) though it was near evening at the Russian
"It was beautiful," Bigelow
Aerospace corporate counsel Mike Gold, who attended the launch, told SPACE.com
immediately after the Dnepr blastoff. "Genesis 1 is about to have
Genesis 2 is a near-twin of Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis 1
module, which launched
in July 2006 and remains operational today, but carries a series of
enhancements and additional cargo, the Las Vegas, Nevada-based spaceflight firm
has said. Both spacecraft are prototypes for future commercial orbital
complexes that Bigelow Aerospace, and its founder and president Robert Bigelow,
hope to offer for use by private firms and
national space agencies.
Gold added that the launch and orbiting of
Genesis 2 was the first step, with ground operators anticipating to hear from
the spacecraft via ground stations to verify its health and status. An initial signal
received at 6:20 p.m. EDT (2220 GMT) relayed that Genesis 2's batteries were
powering up, as well as the expected air pressure, but firm data on solar array
deployment and the vehicle's successful inflation will come later, officials
is excellent news," Gold said on confirmation that Genesis 2 was operating well
in Earth orbit. "I'm a little overwhelmed right now. We still have steps to go
through. We're early in the mission...but this is all good news."
Mid-afternoon rains brought some concern that
the launch would be delayed, but the showers cleared in time for liftoff. A
brief communications issue in Russia also delayed confirmation that Genesis 2
separated from its Dnepr booster, prompting a few tense moments.
"Any deviation from nominal magnifies the anxiety,"
said Bigelow Aerospace program manager Eric Haakonstad in a statement.
"When it came in four minutes later, it was a big relief."
Thursday's launch came after a series of delays
for Genesis 2, most recently due to return to flight efforts by Dnepr rocket
launch provider ISC Kosmotras. The joint Russian-Ukrainian firm launched two
successful flights on April 17 and June
15 this year to recover from a failed July 26, 2006 space shot.
look, new spacecraft
2 module sports a similar
look as its Genesis 1 predecessor, but carries a suite of new sensors and
avionics to monitor and control the spacecraft in orbit. The sensors will watch
over internal pressure, temperature, vehicle attitude control and radiation
levels, Bigelow Aerospace officials said.
space, the 15-foot (4.4-meter) module is designed to deploy eight solar arrays
and expand from its launch width of 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) to a flight diameter
of eight feet (2.54 meters). Genesis 2 carries 22 cameras - more than the 13
imagers aboard Genesis 1 - to record scenes within the spacecraft's 406-cubic
foot (11.5-cubic meter) volume.
predecessor, Genesis 2 also sports a multi-tank system to inflate the module
with compressed air. That improvement, the firm has said, adds
vital redundancy in the inflation process and allows better control of the
craft's gas supplies.
If all goes well, Genesis 2 is expected to have a long
orbital life akin to that of Genesis 1, which continues to operate nearly a
full year after its July 12, 2006 launch. Bigelow Aerospace officials said the
older module may even continue to function through the next eight to 13 years.
is the first Bigelow Aerospace module to carry a clutch of personal items under
the firm's "Fly Your Stuff" campaign, which allowed paying customers
to load photographs and other possessions to ride into orbit and be captured by
aboard Genesis 2 are a Space Bingo game and Biobox filled with ant farms,
scorpions and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Bingo game is chiefly aimed at entertainment, with no actual wagering involved,
and is slated to begin operations a few months after launch. Bigelow Aerospace
officials said the so-called Bingo Box will use fans and levers to autonomously
mix and select bingo balls during games presented on the firm's website: www.bigelowaerospace.com.
Biobox, meanwhile, is a three-chamber pressurized vessel with compartments for
biological specimens to be observed by onboard cameras.
to the hissing cockroaches, the same type that flew aboard Genesis 1, the
Biobox's chambers contain a group of South African flat rock scorpions, one of
which was named Antares by a fifth grade class in Pennsylvania. A farm of
California red harvester ants rounds out Genesis 2's biological payload, the
camera views of which are expected to be available on the Bigelow Aerospace
website during the mission.
towards larger modules
2 and 1 modules are one-third scale versions of Bigelow Aerospace's planned
manned orbital vehicles that are expected to begin flying as early as 2010.
the firm plans to launch Galaxy - another pathfinder module that builds on the Genesis
vehicles - before flying its first crew-rated spacecraft Sundancer in 2010.
Galaxy is slated to have 45 percent more habitable space than the Genesis
craft, with a pressurized volume of about 589 cubic feet (16.7 cubic meters).
three-person, 6,356-cubic foot (180-cubic meter) volume Sundancer is expected
to be bolstered by the addition of a connecting node and propulsion bus in 2011
to lay the foundation to support Bigelow Aerospace's planned BA 330 module. The
larger BA 330 is expected to include an 11,653-cubic foot (330-cubic meter)
habitable volume, when fully inflated, and is slated to dock with Sundancer and
its node-propulsion bus by 2012.
In pre-liftoff action Thursday, due to the rain
at the launch area, a baseball game that included Robert Bigelow was played
inside the large satellite integration and test building on the base. "Just
another example of Bigelow Aerospace innovation...we don't let anything stop us,"
Gold noted that technical and procedural changes
have been made of late to the Dnepr launch-for-hire business. Those changes
were demonstrated by two recent successful launches of the booster. Steps taken
were brought about due to a July 26, 2006 failure of the Dnepr booster.
"With Genesis 1 we put one foot ahead of us.
With Genesis 2 we put another foot ahead of us which means that we're
walking," said Gold. "I look forward to running and what that's going
to be like at Bigelow Aerospace."
special contributor Leonard David contributed to this report from Boulder,