After over six months of delays, a Russian Dnepr launch vehicle – a converted RS-20V Voevode (SS-18 Satan) ballistic missile – has finally launched from the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex near Yasny, Russia, carrying Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis II.
Launch occurred at 15:02 UTC, with spacecraft separation noted as a success. The status of the spacecraft’s health is reported to be good, following ground contact, inflation and deployment of the solar arrays.
Genesis II is the second inflatable spacecraft to be launched for the private company – which has large scale ambitions to set up a space complex in orbit during the next decade.
The flight and stage separation of the Dnepr performed nominally, with Genesis II separating from its rocket at 15:16 UTC into an orbit with an inclination of 64 degrees.
Bigelow Aerospace established contact with its second pathfinder spacecraft at 22:20pm UTC.
‘Initial data suggests sufficient voltage powering up Genesis II’s batteries as well as expected air pressure,’ noted a release from Bigelow Aerospace. ‘While the actual confirmation of solar panel deployment and spacecraft expansion are expected later, the data suggests that deployment and expansion have been successful.’
Before contact, successful communication was considered a long shot on Genesis II’s first pass over the ground station in Fairfax, Viginia. Elevation for the pass was considered low for a successful contact.
‘We don’t even talk to Genesis I that low,’ noted Program Manager Eric Haakonstad.
However, Bigelow Aerospace reported shouts echoing around their Mission Control in Las Vegas of ‘We got it’, as contact was established and Genesis II immediately began sending data back to Earth on its condition.
Data is now streaming from the spacecraft.
‘With Genesis I, it was our first rodeo. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. This time, we were able to perform rehearsals and were more prepared for the launch phase,’ Haakonstad said earlier.
Bigelow Aerospace noted in a later release that a brief communications issue in Russia increased nerves in Mission Control, as there was a delay in confirming Genesis IIâ€™s separation from the Dnepr rocket.
‘Any deviation from nominal magnifys the anxiety. When it came in four minutes later, it was a big relief,’ added Haakonstad.
The new spacecraft follows the successful on orbit operations of Genesis I, the world’s first inflatable spacecraft, which was carried into its 320 mile orbit on top of the converted Cold War-era ICBM December 2006.
Genesis I and II are a family of prototype and production space station modules, with their unique element of being inflatable spacecraft potentially aiding a cheaper solution to creating habitable modules in space, from space stations to space hotels.
The outside appearance and size of the new module is identical to Genesis I – approximately 15 feet (4.4 meters) in length and 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) in diameter, expanding to 2.54 meters (eight feet) in diameter once in orbit. It is a one-third scale version of the manned commercial space modules Bigelow Aerospace hopes to launch in the future.
Unlike the company’s previous spacecraft, Genesis II will feature several systems and materials not flown on Genesis I. This includes upgrades to vehicle control and sensors, a multi-tank inflation system for the module’s expansion and additional layers to the module’s outer shielding.
There will also be a total of 22 combined interior and exterior cameras on Genesis II that include articulated and wireless cameras, as well as an exterior projection system to allow the display of images on the main body of the vehicle.
Genesis II will also allow the public to ‘fly your stuff’ inside the module, for as little as $295. Over the next several years, Bigelow plans to test larger prototype spacecraft, including a full-scale prototype that could to launch as early as 2012.
Status of the spacecraft will follow from Bigelow later today.
Meanwhile, Bigelow are continuing to work at a pace with Lockheed Martin on the Human Rating effort on the Atlas V launch vehicle. Full updates and presentations are available on L2.