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Bigelow Aerospace: Dispatches from Yasny

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Mar 28, 2007 6:55 pm
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As preparations continue for the launch of the second pathfinder spacecraft Genesis II, a team from Bigelow Aerospace has arrived at the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex near Yasny, Russia. Bigelow Aerospace Corporate Counsel Mike Gold is writing a series of posts from Yasny describing the lead-up to what is hoped to be the beginning of our next great adventure.

A Warm Homecoming to Siberia

It feels like coming home again.

This may sound like an odd sentiment to have since the “home” at issue is located in southwestern Siberia within the confines of an active nuclear Russian Strategic Rocket Forces installation … but it’s an emotion that was apparent on the faces of every returning member of the Bigelow Aerospace team as we arrived in the dead of night at the Yasny Launch Base.

The facility at Yasny is like an oasis in the middle of a vast, flat, snow-covered expanse that has its own stark beauty. Geographically, it’s very similar to the great plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota. Whenever we drive through the region, I half expect to pass by the Indian reservation that I lived on as a child.

As one might expect for Siberia, the night is cold. But despite the lateness of the hour (around 2 a.m.), we’re greeted by the hotel staff and Kosmotras officials with enough warmth to melt the snow.

The relationship between Bigelow Aerospace and ISC Kosmotras is uniquely close. These people are not just our launch service providers, but our friends. Like all of us at Bigelow Aerospace, Kosmotras personnel are dreamers and innovators. By converting SS-18s (the backbone of the Russian nuclear arsenal) into commercial space launch vehicles, they are literally turning swords into plowshares. All of us at Bigelow Aerospace believe that what is happening with the Genesis missions — the transformation of weapons of war into tools for peaceful exploration and development — is a harbinger of things to come. We hope to not just create better technology, but to build a better, more peaceful future for our children and grandchildren to live in.

But, for the time being, our team’s thoughts about the future only extend as far as a quick shower and a warm bed. Sheer exhaustion from travel and time changes is one of the many challenges that the BA team will face during the campaign. Yasny is 13 hours ahead of Las Vegas and requires roughly three days to get to, so the travel and time will inevitably take their toll.

Like any launch campaign, the workload is never light, nor are the hours regular. Even on our first night at the base, visa issues arose at roughly 10 p.m. that had us calling both Moscow and our Washington office to ensure that all of the proper paperwork was taken care of to support the upcoming arrival of our security and technology teams.

It’s almost midnight on Saturday night as I write this and, over the course of the next two days at Yasny, the BA “forward team” will continue its work. Specifically, a complex choreography of events — described in excruciating detail within BA’s Security Plan — must occur when the spacecraft arrives. Meetings will be held with both Kosmotras personnel and local airport officials to ensure that everybody’s roles and responsibilities are well understood. As any good baseball or football coach will tell you, preparation is what wins or loses games, and the BA launch team fully intends to be ready when they take the field during the spacecraft arrival on Tuesday.

Moreover, the departure of the spacecraft from Las Vegas will represent the end of a nearly yearlong regulatory process. For example, work on the Genesis II DSP-73 (the document that grants approval to ship the spacecraft to Russia) actually began here in Yasny nearly a year ago during the Genesis I campaign. It’s during the shipment of the spacecraft from the United States to Yasny that we will learn the ultimate efficacy of our licensing and customs efforts, making this an intense time for those of us involved in the regulatory side of the mission.

Adding further to the drama of what is sure to be an exciting campaign, Kosmotras is soon expected to launch the first Dnepr rocket since the failure in late July. This may occur mere hours before Genesis II lands at Orsk airport (the closest airport to Yasny) and all of the Kosmotras and BA personnel are ripe with anticipation of the first Dnepr return-to-flight mission.

This week is sure to be an eventful one with both the Dnepr launch and the arrival of the spacecraft, and the Bigelow Aerospace Yasny team is looking forward to sharing these events, as well as other insights as to what life is like on the launch base, with you via future blog entries.

For now, at half-past midnight, this diverse and unique international team of Russians, Ukrainians and Americans are getting some rest in anticipation of continuing this incredible adventure in the morning.

Mike Gold; Corporate Counsel
Yasny Launch Base

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