When most people arrive in Las Vegas, they make a beeline for the casinos. Me, I went in a different direction (literally and figuratively), paying a visit to the corporate headquarters of Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas. (This is a separate location from their manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas.) I spent over an hour there interviewing Robert Bigelow about Genesis 1, the company’s future plans, and related issues. All this will appear in an article (or two) in future issues of The Space Review, but here are a few highlights:
- Genesis 1 is performing very well in orbit, and its cameras have returned “hundreds” of images, only a fraction of which have been released. They are limited to primarily low-resolution images at the moment because they’re using a lower-bandwidth UHF antenna; a slow roll of the spacecraft (which will damp out in a few weeks) makes it hard to maintain a lock on the S-band antenna.
- The images returned include some of the interior of the spacecraft, which haven’t been released yet because they include some company logos; the company is working to get permission from those companies so that they can release the logos. (The logos are there principally to help calibrate the cameras.)
- Genesis 2 is scheduled for launch from Russia late this year, either in the latter half of November or December. It will be very similar to Genesis 1 but with a few “tweaks”, including more cameras and improved life support systems.
- The company has gotten a good response to their “Fly Your Stuff” promotion, particularly flying items in the spacecraft.
- ITAR (export control) has been a huge problem for the company, since they’re launching items from Russia, although Bigelow emphasized they don’t have a problem with the people handling the export control work, but instead the policies and general bureaucracy.
- Bigelow said that up to 44 teams expressed an interest in America’s Space Prize (ASP), but with few exceptions these groups did not appear to have the wherewithal to make a serious run at the prize. Although NASA’s COTS program attracting the attention of industry these days (including teams that would otherwise have a shot as ASP; taking government funding is a disqualifying factor for the prize), he said there are no plans to change the purse size or deadline.
- While Bigelow is supportive of space tourism in general, and likes the developments going on in the suborbital arena, he thinks a much bigger market for his company’s modules will be from national space agencies, who want the prestige of a national astronaut corps and their own (albeit leased) space station. Such agencies, he noted, have much bigger pockets than individual space tourists.
There’s a lot more to the interview than these notes, so stay tuned for more in the days to come.