Thursday, July 20, 2006

The interesting stuff...

As Discovery lands in Florida after the second successful return to flight mission, we should now see the resumption of construction flights to the ISS, with the next launch of Atlantis (STS-115) scheduled for August 28th, set to deliver the second left-side truss segment (ITS P3/P4), a pair of solar arrays (2A and 4A), and batteries to the space station.

Shuttle commander Steve Lindsey's view of the landing strip through a head-up display during the final approach into Kennedy Space Center.
CREDIT: NASA/George Shelton
Discovery landing on Runway 15 at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility on the 17th of July. Mission elapsed time was 12 days, 18 hours, 36 minutes and 54 seconds. Main gear touchdown occurred on time at 9:14:43 EDT, wheel stop was at 9:15:49 EDT.

With firm plans for a 2010 retirement date for the space shuttle fleet, from next year there is set to be an much increased European role in the ISS with the first launch of the ESA ATV. Although only five ATV cargo flights to the space station are currently scheduled before 2015, with the shuttles' retirement that may no longer be enough. NASA is already looking into transferring cargo originally earmarked for the shuttle to other craft, including both ESA's ATV, and Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV).

However the really interesting stuff is actually happening elsewhere. On July the 12th the first in a series of launches by Bigelow Aerospace put the first inflatable space module into orbit with remarkably little press coverage considering the possible implications. Yes I know the launch made Slashdot, but it's hardly the 9 o'clock news.

CREDIT: Mike Gold/
The Bigelow Aerospace Genesis-1 expandable module being packed into the nose cone of the Dnepr booster, a converted SS-18 ballistic missile, which was launched yesterday by ISC Kosmotras out of a silo at the Yasny Launch Base, an active Russian strategic missile facility.

The launch did get coverage in the specialist press, with articles in both New Scientist and Nature and after a bit of digging I did run across an older Popular Science article which talks about Bigelow Aerospace. But apart from a few articles there seems to be a remarkable lack of interest.

CREDIT: John B. Carnett
The full-scale S-1A demonstrator, approximately 45 feet long with a 22 foot diameter, with former NASA engineer William Schneider who designed the modules for Bigelow Aerospace.
The Bigelow Aerospace prototype is based on NASA's TransHab inflatable module concept, shown here during testing at the Johnson Space Center in 1998.

Which is odd, because this launch is historic, certainly it's as big a milestone as the X Prize. This is the first time a private company has launched living creatures into space, and it's the first privately built space habitat. Big news, so why no coverage?

CREDIT: Bigelow Aerospace
The first images from Genesis-1

It could have something to do with Bigelow's obviously poor media relations, you only have to look at their website to see that these people don't really know how to present themselves to the media, or the public in a "professional manner". Some people were even questioning whether the launch was for real, or just a practical joke.

Well it's definitely for real, you can track Genesis-1 in real time, and grab the first images and video of Genesis-1 from the Bigelow website. Big news, even if Bigelow themselves aren't shouting about it...