Private Space Station Prototype Hits Orbital Milestone

Private Space Station Prototype Hits Orbital Milestone
A camera on one of Genesis I’s aft solar panels eyes a clear glance at the western coast of Mexico leading out to the Pacific Ocean. Just visible in the right side of the image is the southern tip of Baja California.
(Image: © Bigelow Aerospace.)

A prototypemodule for a private space station has passed an orbital milestone aftercompleting its 10,000th trip around the Earth.

Genesis 1,an inflatablemodule built by the Las Vegas, Nev.-based firm Bigelow Aerospace, passedthe 10,000-orbit mark as it nears the beginning of its third year of unmannedoperations, its builders announced late Thursday.

BigelowAerospace launchedGenesis 1 atop a converted intercontinental ballistic missile on July 12,2006 to test its ability to self-inflate and operate in Earth orbit.

Now, more660 days later, the spacecraft?s exterior cameras have taken some 14,000 imagesthat include snapshots of all seven of Earth?s continents. Its solar panelshave also continuously powered electrical systems for about 15,840 hours,Bigelow Aerospace officials said.

Led by businessmanRobert Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain and otherenterprises, Bigelow Aerospace followed Genesis 1 with a successor, Genesis 2,in June 2007. That module also continues to function as designed.

With a lengthof about 14 feet (4.4 meters) and a diameter of 8 feet (2.5 meters), theGenesis modules are one-third scale versions of Bigelow Aerospace?s plannedBA-330 modules for manned missions.

?Since itwas lifted into orbit, Genesis 1 has continued to perform its main mission totest and verify systems to be used in futuremanned space habitats,? Bigelow Aerospace officials said in a statement. ?Genesis 1 has traveled the equivalent of more than 270million miles, which would take it to the Moon and back 1,154 times.?

BigelowAerospace hopes to begin assembling its first crewed station using its Sundancermodule in about 2011.

While10,000 orbits is a major milestone, Genesis 1 has a long road ahead if it wantsto catch up to the International Space Station, which is currently manned by acrew of two Russian cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut as it circles the Earth.NASA and its international partners plan to launch the lab?s largestlaboratory, Japan?s Kibo module, later this month.

TheISS celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and its oldest component -Russia?s Zarya control module - surpassed the 50,000-orbit mark in August 2007to complete what was then a 1.3 billion-mile (2.3 billion-kilometer) trek.When fully assembled in 2010, the ISS is expected rival a U.S. football fieldin length, include enough living space as a five-bedroom home and carry a crewof six astronauts.

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