The AP is reporting that at 6:53 p.m. Moscow time, 10:53 a.m. Eastern time, the Genesis I, Bigelow Aerospace's first test inflatable space station module, lifted off from its silo in Russia. No confirmation yet that the launch was successful.
Here's a picture of Bigelow Aerospace's mission control in Las Vegas, Nevada from BA's new web site. It looks like a cross between simple, functional and cool. Lots of large LCDs in a warehouse. Here's a link to some other pictures of mission control. Does anybody know what programs those computers are running? Looks like at least some of the computers are using Windows rather than Linux.
Apart from the front page, which is gimmicky and over-busy, the new web site looks really professional. Hopefully, they will have a video feed from mission control upon launch of the first Bigelow module on June 16.
While surfing Bigelow Aerospace's web site this morning, I noted that the jobs page has been updated extensively again. Bigelow has a big blurb in bold about wanting to hire recent engineering grads. No full-time job experience is required, so if you fit the bill, this is a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a company doing some of the most exciting work in aerospace with your work making it to space on short order. These opportunities are rare in aerospace, unfortunately.
Also of note is that Bigelow has posted a job description for a web designer. Bigelow's web site looks amateurish, but it seems like a slam dunk to use all of the good space artwork that Bigelow has commissioned in order to make a polished web site. If you are looking for good web design work, you would be doing all of us fanboys a favor by taking on the assignment.
Today, I was reading a Popular Science article about upcoming events in 2006 and it listed February as the launch date of Bigelow Aerospace's first inflatable test module. Just around the corner! I had their first launch as April, but that schedule was set before the Falcon 5 maiden launch carrying the Bigelow module was delayed from November, '05, and Bigelow decided to lead with a launch on the Dnepr.
Bigelow sure is taking a low-key approach. I would have expected more press activity around the time the module was delivered to the Russians/Ukrainians. Does anybody have a link to more definitive scheduling information, such as a launch schedule for the Dnepr?
A reader writes and asks why I don't write about NASA that much in my blog, especially with NASA announcing last week how they're going to go back to the moon and then on to Mars. In short, the premise of the reader's question is correct. I'm not covering NASA and don't believe that I ever will, even if NASA spends $104 billion on a project and succeeds in going to the moon.
To my mind, the manned spaceflight portion of NASA is a parasite on the American people. It's now a jobs program for rocketeers. I look at it rather benignly, though. It's a waste of money, but no more than that. NASA doesn't stop anybody from doing what they want to do. No small, innovative companies -- those who will form the backbone of future space activity -- are going broke because of NASA. On the other hand, I discount heavily the potential good that NASA can do for the industry. If any of these entrepeneurial companies are relying in large part on NASA decisionmaking to help them with contracts, I think they are deluding themselves. At most, they should view NASA business as a small potential bonus.
Because of this view, the best thing to do is to ignore NASA's manned spaceflight activities. It would be boring to follow it anyway. It's more fun to follow SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace, and potentially Scaled Composites and Armadillo Aerospace once their orbital programs come into sharper focus.
With the introduction of the Falcon IX, I have been thinking about how large standard structures will be on orbit. The Falcon IX heavy appears to be aimed at the Bigelow Aerospace BA-330 space station module, which will expand to about 7 meters diameter and 14 meters in length. (I note that, as drawn, the Falcon IX heavy has a payload fairing that is insufficiently long to accomodate a BA-330 space station module, but I guess SpaceX will design a special fairing for Bigelow.)
SpaceX has stated that its ultimate goal is to build a Saturn V-class rocket. Along these lines, the National Air and Space Museum here in Washington has the spare copy of Skylab, which was launched in 1973 atop a Saturn V rocket. In person, the Skylab space station module seems pretty big. Impressive. Skylab had a diameter of 6.5 meters and length of 36 meters, or about twice as long as the BA-330, but of roughly equal diameter. If Bigelow were putting up a station module on a Saturn V, he could expand the module to about 13 meters diameter, or 4 times bigger in volume than Skylab. I'm sure that it would appear quite large to the eye. Bigelow should do a mock-up of such a structure to impress everybody.
Indeed you might not be able to fit such a module into the Air and Space museum, which is a real shame. It's a pity that the museum is not large enough to accomodate an old Saturn V indoors as well, even though the museum opened after the Apollo era. Why didn't they just build a basement for it under the mall?
Popular Science has a cover article about Bigelow Aerospace in this month's magazine. The article doesn't give much new information, but does have some great pictures. Check out the slide shows.
Bigelow Aerospace has prepared some really great photos and a lot of fantastic artwork to communicate its plans. Perhaps in the future, the company's web site will take on a more finished professional look to highlight these pictures and artwork.
The following rendering is of a single Nautilus module, with volume of about 17,000 cubic feet from the outside dimensions. I guess that would be very roughly 11,000 cubic feet internal volume, a little more than twice the volume of my Washington condo apartment. This is plenty of living space for one or two people accustomed to the American style of living, so long as some privacy is afforded by walls and maintenance areas (trash room, water system, etc.) are kept to a minimum.
The big news today is that Robert Bigelow has announced the rules for America's Space Prize, a $50 million cash prize for the design and manufacture of a space capsule suitable for resupply of Bigelow space stations. Please see the Space.com article. Here are the rules, in brief.
(1) The spacecraft must reach a minimum altitude of 400 kilometers (approximately 250 miles);
(2) The spacecraft must reach a minimum velocity sufficient to complete two (2) full orbits at altitude before returning to Earth
(3) The spacecraft must carry no less than a crew of five (5) people;
(4) The spacecraft must dock or demonstrate its ability to dock with a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space habitat, and be capable of remaining on station at least six (6) months;
(5) The spacecraft must perform two (2) consecutive, safe and successful orbital missions within a period of sixty (60) calendar days, subject to Government regulations;
(6) No more than twenty percent (20 percent) of the spacecraft may be composed of expendable hardware;
(7) The spacecraft must complete its two (2) missions safely and successfully, with all five (5) crew members aboard for the second qualifying flight, before the competition’s deadline
(8) The contestant must have its principal place of business in the United States of America.
(9) The Competitor must not accept or utilize government development funding related to this contest of any kind, nor shall there be any government ownership of the competitor. Use in government test facilities shall be permitted.
(10) The spacecraft must complete its two (2) missions safely and successfully, with all five (5) crew members aboard for the second qualifying flight, before the competition’s deadline of Jan. 10, 2010.
As stated before, this prize is tailor-made for SpaceX. I don't know any other company that is on this kind of tight design trajectory.
Robert Bigelow has announced the $50 million America's Space Prize, which is intended to foster private U.S. manned orbital capabilities. The prize goes to the first U.S. company to construct a 5 to 7 passenger manned capsule or vehicle suitable for space station recrewing and to launch it to orbit twice within 60 days.
The prize expires at the end of 2010. The requirements state that only U.S. companies are eligible for the prize, even though foreign investment is welcome. Bigelow states that the winning company is first in line for a servicing contract to his first space station that he is launching in a series of modules between 2008 and 2010.
This guy is putting his money where his mouth is. $50 million is a lot of money and it's entirely possible that this prize will ensure that private manned spaceflight is here to stay.
I have a couple of constructive criticisms. First, there is no second place prize that would have encouraged competition among more than one private space transportation company. Second, this is open to U.S. companies only. One of the great things about the Ansari X-Prize was that the publicity generated was global, since each country had its own horse in the race. Also, having a global prize increases the credibility of the prize-winning company. We can make an educated guess that this company will be from the U.S. anyway, so making it global is a "freebie" in that regard. On the other hand, it may be that Bigelow will have requirements from his future customers, such as NASA or the military, which would have required security clearances for working on its stations. So perhaps it is a forced criteria over which Bigelow has no real control.
To my mind, the front runner for this prize is SpaceX, one of the companies that I have been following on this blog most closely. Perhaps SpaceX can launch such a capsule on its Falcon V vehicle, which is to first launch in 2005 or 2006, and which is launching Bigelow Aerospace's first test space station module.
There are lots of dark horses in the race. Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, the winner of the Ansari X-Prize, could scale up its suborbital vehicle. Burt Rutan, the head of Scaled Composites, has stated his desire to go orbital with a Tier Two program. Armadillo Aerospace, a small outfit in Dallas, has one of the most scalable rocket designs, even though they are relatively early in their development program. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com's Blue Origin's plans are a real mystery, but he has been hiring for years, even though the company has made no announcements. XCOR, a neighbor of Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, has stated plans to do a suborbital vehicle, but I'm guessing they will not stop their program at suborbital.
In any event, we now know that the next 6 years will be action-packed for private space in the U.S. At least I will enjoy watching the race on Robert Bigelow's dime!
This week's Aviation Week & Space Technology has a cover story on Bigelow Aerospace. It is a rather extensive article -- lots of detail to mull over, even though the overall picture of what Bigelow is doing has not changed from what I have been following here. In addition to the detail, the cover has a very cool photo of the big Nautilus space station inflatable module with a worker climbing up to the middle of the module. The scale of this module once inflated is enormous! As you know, I have followed Bigelow since I began this blog and am a cheerleader for what they are doing as a space technology venture.
Bigelow is also set to announce a $50 million America's Space Prize, which is an orbital follow-on to the the very successful suborbital Ansari X-Prize. America's Prize will be won by building and launching before 2010 a manned capsule with 6 or 7 crewmemebers. Bigelow is to contribute $25 million to America's Prize, although it appears that the second $25 million has not yet been secured.
First off, I am surprised that Bigelow is proposing a prize for a capsule that appears to require a little heavier lift than the SpaceX Falcon V can handle. Maybe Bigelow is pushing Musk to build a heavy-class rocket in the near-term.