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Images: First room launched for space hotel

Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas takes its first step toward a space complex, with a successful launch of a test craft.
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1 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Genesis I

There's a new object orbiting Earth that could be the first step in the construction of an inhabitable complex in space. Genesis I, built by Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, was successfully launched into orbit by a converted Russian ICBM on Wednesday. This inflatable 14-foot demonstration craft is the first launch toward the company's overall mission--to build an affordable human space complex that is accessible to the commercial sector by 2015.

Left is one of the first images returned by Genesis I, showing the inflated craft and a solar array. Note the Earth's curviture in the background. Photos number 3 and 13 are also of Genesis I in orbit.

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2 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Launch rocket

The Genesis I was hurled into orbit by a Dnepr LV rocket--the first launch from the Yasny launch base in Russia. The rocket is a converted SS-18 ICBM. The launch was coordinated by the International Space Company Kosmotras under the direction of both Russia and the Ukraine.

On the company's Web site, company founder Robert Bigelow says he expects an upcoming transportation problem. Bigelow wants to launch up to 10 times by 2010 using large rockets, and says that 16 launches per year will be needed to supply two space complexes.

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3 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Space photo

Bigelow releases the first photo of Genesis I from its orbit which shows it in the process of inflating to full size.

The launch procedure was not without its glitches--not in space but on Earth. SpaceQuest of Arlington, Va., was supposed to communicate with Genesis I, but a heavy storm caused a last-minute power outage, knocking out the tracking station. A long rope of extension cords was connected to a restaurant with power down the street, and manually pointing the antenna allowed SpaceQuest to hear the initial signal from Genesis I.

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4 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Genesis I

Bigelow Aeorspace began operations in 1999 and is mostly funded by its founder, Robert T. Bigelow. Bigelow, according to the company's Web site, has invested almost $75 million of his own money--about 95 percent of the total expenditures as of April 2006. He expects to spend up to $500 million from his own pocket to get his space complex off the ground by 2015. Bigelow is no novice in the hospitality industry; he made his fortune as the owner of Budget Suites of America.

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5 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Section unfolded

Bigelow plans to launch its space complex into orbit in sections that will be powered by large solar cells.

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6 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

inaflate

While in orbit, the sections will inflate to their full size.

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7 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Space hotel

The sections will be assembled into a space complex that will have room for rockets to dock and return to Earth.

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8 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Space complex rockets

Here, this artist's model shows supply rockets on three sides of the space complex.

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9 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Genesis II

Bigelow Aerospace plans to sell space for personal items aboard its next space project, Genesis II, which is slated for the fall of 2006. The Bigelow site offers people a chance to send photos or small keepsakes into orbit and proposes an in-capsule video camera to show the objects, floating in the weightless environment, back to Earth. The cost is $295 per photo, but a limited is discount available.

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10 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

America's Space Prize

Bigelow hopes to recoup some of its costs by winning America's Space Prize of $50 million. The contest rewards the first private spacecraft to send a crew of at least five people on a journey of at least two orbits and return them safely back to Earth by January 10, 2010. And then they must repeat the feat within 30 days.

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11 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Mission control

Bigelow has built its own mission control in Las Vegas to track the progress of the Genesis I and future missions.

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12 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Mission screen

A wall of monitors helps technicians track the progress. Quiet please.

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13 of 13 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Genesis I

Here's another early photo of the Genesis I craft.

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