[FPSPACE] Bigelow Aerospace flight delayed
joberg at houston.rr.com
Tue Jun 6 18:15:50 EDT 2006
Test flight for space hotel delayed
Russian launch of Bigelow's inflatable module now set for July
By James Oberg, NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC
The much-anticipated first orbital test of technology that could lead to
a "space hotel" will be delayed, Bigelow Aerospace announced Tuesday. The
blastoff, widely believed to have been planned for June 16, will now not
take place before early July.
"We have just been informed that there will be a three- to four-week
delay of our first launch," Chris Reed, publicist for the Las Vegas-based
company, said in an e-mail advisory. "We are told that if there are no other
delays, our new launch time frame will be between July 4th and July 14th."
The Genesis 1 payload will be a one-third-scale model of an inflatable
habitation module that could form the backbone of an orbital facility for
space tourists and commercial space researchers sometime in the next decade.
NASA experimented with the concept early in the international space station
program, but budget cuts forced them to terminate research. Bigelow
Aerospace has picked up that approach and has perfected the technology,
The test flight is expected to subject the flexible exterior wall
material to space conditions for an extended period of time, while interior
instrumentation will monitor pressure and temperature. In theory, a flexible
wall should be even more resistant than a metal wall to penetration by
micrometeorites and space debris.
In addition to the space hotel angle, the mission is of high interest
because it would be the first commercial satellite launch from an active
Russian military missile base, where dozens of SS-18 Satan intercontinental
ballistic missiles remain aimed at the United States, each with 10
The launch vehicle, a commercialized version of the SS-18 called the
Dnepr, has already made several successful satellite launches from the
Russian main spaceport at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Commercialized by the
Kosmotras Corp., it can carry up to 3 tons of cargo into orbit.
Two years of preparation -- For the past two years, officials of the
Russian Defense Ministry have been
preparing to launch the same commercial configuration directly from this
military base. In that way, the operational budget will go to the Strategic
Rocket Forces, the agency that runs the base at Dombarovsky, rather than the
Military Space Forces, which until recently ran most of the Baikonur
Genesis 1 will be only the first of a long series of commercial satellite
launches that it is hoped will be made from Dombarovsky, a missile base just
east of Orsk in the southwest corner of Siberia.
According to Reed, the reasons for the Genesis 1 delay are "due to
special preparations that the launch provider is continuing to make for our
flight." Bigelow Aerospace only last week unveiled new pages on its Web site
dealing with hitherto-undisclosed features of the payload, involving views
that will be transmitted to Earth.
"This flight contains our Genesis 1 spacecraft with a total of 13 cameras
inside and outside the spacecraft," Reed explained. External cameras will
show scenes of Earth. The interior cameras will show floating personal items
placed aboard the spacecraft by the firm's employees.
Fees for flying mementos -- Bigelow Aerospace is now seeking private
customers willing to pay modest fees to place their own personal items on
the next payload. "The Genesis 2 spacecraft scheduled to fly this coming
fall will be our first commercial effort," Reed continued, "and it is for
that flight that we are currently taking only reservations.
"If the Genesis 1 spacecraft functions as anticipated," he said, "we
shall then proceed to contact all of the parties who have made Genesis 2
reservations and complete the transactions to 'Fly Your Stuff.'"
Reservations are still being taken, he added.
"Only after we have launched our first spacecraft and obtained
satisfactory results from a variety of information sources onboard the
spacecraft will we then actually convert reservations to purchases," he
Photo: Eventually, Bigelow Aerospace hopes to dock inflatable space
modules together in orbit to construct a hotel, as shown in this artist's
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