June 28, 2007 - 3:56 p.m. PDT
Las Vegas, NV 06/28/07 - Bigelow Aerospace has established contact with its second pathfinder spacecraft, Genesis II. Launched earlier Thursday from Yasny, Russia, Mission Control in North Las Vegas, Nev., made first contact at 2:20 p.m. PDT.
Initial data suggests sufficient voltage powering up Genesis II's batteries as well as expected air pressure. 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, Va. Elevation for the pass was considered low for a successful contact.
"We don't even talk to Genesis I that low," Program Manager Eric Haakonstad said.
To the surprise of those gathered in Mission Control and shouts of "We got it" echoing through the room, contact was established and Genesis II immediately began sending data back to Earth on its condition.
After a quick celebration of cheers and hugs, the Bigelow Aerospace Mission Control staff immediately began the work of processing the data being returned from Genesis II.
Genesis II is the second experimental pathfinder spacecraft designed to test and confirm systems for future manned commercial space modules planned by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace The privately-funded space station module was launched atop a Dnepr rocket at 8:02 a.m. PDT from the ISC Kosmotras Yasny Cosmodrome, located in the Orenburg region of Russia, and was inserted into orbit at 8:16 a.m. PDT at an inclination of 64 degrees.
In addition to the initial communications pass, there will be further passes over the Virginia ground station on Thursday, as well as communication windows with Bigelow Aerospace ground stations in Las Vegas, Hawaii and Alaska. Communications for much of the first day will be devoted to the determination of spacecraft status and health, with the first images from Genesis II's 22 interior and exterior cameras to arrive in the coming days.
Among those images will be items and pictures sent up by paying participants in the Bigelow Aerospace "Fly your Stuff" program. The general public got a chance last fall to purchase slots to fly their pictures and memorabilia into space. Bigelow Aerospace hopes to photograph the photos and items in orbit and display them on this site.
In the coming weeks, BA also hopes to activate the first-ever Space Bingo game aboard Genesis II as a fun activity for the public.
The new spacecraft follows Genesis I, which was launched from Yasny on July 12, 2006, and continues to successfully return data and images from Earth orbit. Genesis II is identical in size and appearance to Genesis I - approximately 15 feet (4.4 meters) in length and 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) in diameter at launch, expanding to 2.54 meters (eight feet) in diameter after expansion in orbit.
Inside is where the differences can be seen, as Genesis II includes include a suite of additional sensors and avionics that didn't fly on Genesis I. Moreover, while Genesis I contained 13 video cameras, Genesis II will nearly double that figure to 22 cameras located on both the inside and outside of the spacecraft.
Like other BA spacecraft, Genesis II employs a unique architecture with an expandable outer surface that was wrapped around a central core at launch and expanded through air inflation in orbit. The skin is made of several layers that include proprietary impact-resistant materials. Testing on the ground has shown that the expandable shells of a Bigelow module are much more resistant to space debris than the modules on the International Space Station.
Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert T. Bigelow was on site in Yasny to witness the launch with other BA employees, while other BA personnel were gathered at Mission Control in North Las Vegas.
Bigelow Aerospace Program Manager Eric Haakonstad says with the experience of Genesis I, they were better primed for the launch of Genesis II. "With Genesis I, it was our first rodeo. We didn't know exactly what to expect," Haakonstad says. "This time, we were able to perform rehearsals and were more prepared for the launch phase."
That said, a brief communications difficulty in Russia increased nerves in Mission Control, as there was a delay in confirming Genesis II's separation from the Dnepr rocket. "Any deviation from nominal magnifies the anxiety. When it came in four minutes later, it was a big relief," Haakonstad says.
Bigelow Aerospace has received just the initial data from Genesis II, and expects more extensive data and imagery in the coming days. BA will provide updates and images from Genesis II on this site.