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Second space 'hotel' model launched

July 5, 2007 By Heidi Ledford This article courtesy of Nature News.

Time to start planning your 2012 orbital vacation?

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Nearly a year after the successful launch of their first model inflatable space habitat, Bigelow Aerospace has launched a second, Genesis II.

One week after its launch from Russia on 28 June, the company says the new craft has inflated successfully and has transmitted its first photos back to Bigelow Aerospace headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Genesis II is the next step in hotelier-turned-space-entrepreneur Robert Bigelow's plan to open up business in orbit. His habitat has been popularly labeled a 'space hotel', but Bigelow now chafes at the moniker, saying it could be much more: a hotel, yes, but also a science lab, a factory, a medical clinic, or, perhaps, a corporate yacht. Bigelow has reason to take the business seriously — he says he has already spent $100 million on the company, and plans to invest another $400 million by 2015.

Genesis II looks essentially identical to its predecessor, but contains several new features, including improved stabilization and control systems, and a projector that can cast images — potentially ads — on the outside of the craft.

The craft also carries a selection of mementos sent in by paying customers keen to fly their stuff to space, cameras to catch it all floating about, and, even more bizarrely, a bingo ball shaker that should mix up and select a series of bingo calls (a challenge in microgravity) for players down on Earth in the coming weeks.

Crew: dead or alive?

The first Bigelow inflatable craft carried up into space a 'crew' of Madagascar hissing cockroaches and Mexican jumping beans — which could conceivably have survived the trauma of launch and inflation (see 'Space hotel gets a check-up'). This second craft also holds a few scorpions and a colony of California red harvester ants. The status of the crew is currently unknown.

The prototypes currently in orbit are roughly a third the projected size of a final Bigelow space module and do not yet contain any form of life support. The arthropod crew of Genesis II — which the company refers to as their 'arthronauts' — lives in a specially designed, pressurized 'biobox' containing a variety of food, a water-retaining gel and a special system for cleaning out animal waste.

That's a luxury suite compared to Genesis I: the cockroaches on that flight were fed dog kibble and had to endure a period of depressurization following launch. The cockroaches and scorpions on Genesis II have even been adorned with Swarovski crystals to allow viewers on earth to tell them apart.

Guests welcome

The company's next launch is the larger Galaxy module, scheduled for late 2008. Galaxy is slated to contain Bigelow Aerospace's first attempt at a life-support system.

After that comes Sundancer, their first 'human inhabitable' craft, planned to launch in early 2010. Bigelow hopes his modules will be ready for visitors by 2012.

Want to spend your 2012 vacation on a Bigelow Aerospace complex? Better start saving now. Bigelow expects a four-week stay, including transportation, to cost about US$15 million in 2012 (about $12 million in today's dollars).

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