New york

A privately-built space station prototype was

launched successfully

June 28 from a Russian missile base, kicking off the second test flight for the U.S. firm Bigelow Aerospace.

Genesis 2, 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

though it was near evening at the Russian launch site. The company established contact with the module a few hours later.

“It was beautiful,” Bigelow Aerospace corporate counsel Mike Gold, who attended the launch, said

immediately after the Dnepr blastoff. “Genesis 1 is about to have company.”

Genesis 2 is a near-twin of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis 1 module, which launched in July 2006 and remains operational

. Genesis 2 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.

In a press release dated June 28, Bigelow Aerospace said initial telemetry from Genesis 2 indicated that the spacecraft had sufficient voltage powering up and had successfully deployed its solar panels.


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.” The

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

April 17 and June 15

to recover from a failed July 26, 2006, launch


Familiar look, new spacecraft

The Genesis 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.

The 4.4-meter module is designed to deploy eight solar arrays and expand from its launch width of 1.9 meters to a flight diameter of 2.54 meters. Genesis 2 carries 22 cameras – more than the 13

aboard Genesis 1 – to record scenes within the spacecraft’s 11.5-cubic meter volume.

Unlike its 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.

Genesis 2 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 onboard cameras.

Also tucked aboard Genesis 2 are a Space Bingo game and Biobox filled with ant farms, scorpions and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

The Space 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 that will be presented on the firm’s

Web site:

Genesis 2’s Biobox, meanwhile, is a three-chamber pressurized vessel with compartments for biological specimens to be observed by onboard cameras.

In addition to 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 Web site during the mission.