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Private space station test delayed till May

Bigelow Aerospace says the second test launch of a prototype space station for the private sector will be delayed by as much as four weeks — from late April to late May — due to rocket upgrades.
Genesis I
This artist's rendering, released by Bigelow Aerospace, shows the Genesis 2 spacecraft in orbit. Externally, the craft is essentially identical to the Genesis 1 that was launched successfully last July.AP file

The second test launch of a prototype space station for the private sector has been delayed by as much as four weeks because of upgrades being made to the Russian-Ukrainian launch vehicle, Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace announced Monday. The Genesis 2 launch from a Russian missile base is now scheduled to take place in late May.

The improvements and upgrades are being made to all Dnepr rockets, including the one slated to carry Bigelow's Genesis 2 module into orbit, to "enhance the system's efficacy and reliability" and to "increase the chances of achieving our primary goal of mission success," real-estate billionaire Robert Bigelow, founder of the aerospace company, said in a written statement.

The Genesis 2 launch has been delayed for months due to the failure of a Dnepr launch last July, just after Bigelow's successful Genesis 1 launch. Russian authorities investigated the accident, and as a result a number of upgrades were made in the Dnepr design. The upgraded Dnepr was launched for the first time Tuesday from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome, successfully putting a cluster of satellites into orbit.

Among those satellites were the remote-sensing research spacecraft EgyptSat 1, SaudiSat 3, five SaudiComsat telecom satellites and seven CubeSat minisatellites developed by university students.

The Dnepr rockets are Soviet-era SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles that have been converted for commercial use by the Russian-Ukrainian company ISC Kosmotras. A spokesman for Bigelow Aerospace, Chris Reed, told that Kosmotras saw the upgrades that had been made in the wake of last year's launch failure "and decided they wanted to get those on our rocket."

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In his statement, Bigelow said that the testing and preparation of his company's inflatable Genesis 2 module was due to be completed this week, and that the module was in "excellent condition and ready for integration" with the Dnepr.

"No one ever wishes for a delay, but discovering problems and making the relevant fixes are a normal part of every launch campaign," Bigelow said. "Bigelow Aerospace supports ISCK's [Kosmotras'] prudent decision to take the necessary time to enhance the Dnepr's systems."

From the outside, Genesis 2 looks much like Genesis 1, weighing in at about 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) and measuring 14.5 feet long (4.4 meters long). In orbit, the module expands from a diameter of 5 feet (1.6 meters) to 8.3 feet (2.54 meters). Bigelow Aerospace says the Genesis modules are one-third-scale prototypes for a full-fledged, six-person-capacity space station module that could be launched as early as 2012.

Genesis 2 has been equipped with upgraded electronics as well as an external projection system that will test the capability for flashing messages on the spacecraft's hull. Reed confirmed that a sign on the craft's exterior will bear the name of Bigelow's granddaughter, Blair — in part to demonstrate the opportunities for future advertisers.

In his statement, Bigelow drew attention to yet another commercial venture tested on Genesis 2.

"The Genesis 2 represents our most important mission yet — in particular, with a variety of mementos, pictures and personal belongings onboard as part of our pilot 'Fly Your Stuff' program — and both ourselves and our launch provider want to err on the side of caution to make sure that the hopes and dreams that the Genesis 2 embodies meet with success," Bigelow said.