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Dispatches from Yasny, Genesis II’s Toughest Trip

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Fri Apr 6, 2007 7:52 am
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As preparations continue for the launch of the second pathfinder spacecraft Genesis II, a team from Bigelow Aerospace (bigelowaerospace.com) 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.

Genesis II has been moved into the Assembly, Integration and Test Building (AITB) at ISC Kosmotras’ Yasny Launch Base. There, the second BA pathfinder spacecraft is being prepared for its upcoming launch. (Photo courtesy ISC Kosmotras)

Genesis II has already been in the skies over Russia. Don’t worry, no one missed the launch, but the spacecraft has already been airborne — not inside a Dnepr rocket, but nestled in the cargo bay of an Antonov-124.

The Antonov-124 Ruslan, the largest cargo aircraft to ever be mass produced, is in and of itself a site to behold. On Tuesday, March 27, I and a team of Bigelow Aerospace personnel were there to greet it at Orsk airport (the closest airstrip to the Yasny Launch Base capable of accommodating an An-124).

For a day or two, we were concerned that weather might make the plane’s arrival difficult. But as we stood out on the tarmac searching the skies for the Antonov, the sun was shining and it was a cold, but crisp and relatively clear day. Finally, a smudge on the horizon appeared and it quickly grew into the plane. Like a giant, yet graceful, bird, the super-sized cargo carrier touched down.

I couldn’t help but want to smile, knowing that the Genesis II campaign had just cleared a major hurdle: getting the spacecraft to Russia. As noted in my previous blog, it’s significantly easier from a legal perspective to send a spacecraft into orbit than it is to send it to a foreign country. After making a brief stop in Luxembourg, Genesis II had finally arrived in Siberia.

I would have smiled, but as I sat waiting on the tarmac, I noticed that due to the cold, my lips weren’t moving as easily as they once did. The temperature was dropping rapidly as the afternoon wore on. Despite having spent years growing up in frigid North Dakota, my blood has apparently thinned considerably.

Once the plane was down and taxied to a waiting area, the airport officials signaled for me, our launch ops manager and our Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA) monitor to move to the back of the Antonov to observe the off-loading. The arrival and transportation of the spacecraft represents a complex ballet of personnel and equipment. We had laid out our choreography in detail within both the BA Security and Transportation Plans, and had made clear at several briefings to Kosmotras and the Orsk airport officials what needed to be done.

In the end, it could not have gone smoother. The Orsk airport officials did a tremendous job. From both a practical and regulatory perspective, the transfer of the spacecraft from the Antonov’s cargo bay to the awaiting caravan of trucks was literally flawless. It’s good to see all of the advance work, meetings and planning finally pay off.

Our launch ops manager, vehicle engineer and several others rode back with the spacecraft, which arrived at Yasny Launch Base in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 28. It’s always a good moment full of emotion to see the spacecraft arrive at the base. However, as I retired to my hotel room at about 3 a.m. or so, I did so with the knowledge that a great deal of work remained to be done.

The arrival of the spacecraft is only a first step. There are nontrivial negotiations and critical paperwork that must be completed prior to gaining permission from Russian customs to open the sea container and move our spacecraft into the launch base’s Assembly, Integration and Test Building (AITB). The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) of course complicates matters, since Russian customs isn’t allowed to inspect, or for that matter, even see the spacecraft or other technical material.

Last year on Genesis I, it took three full days to clear customs, and one all-night marathon on the part of our logistics manager and the Kosmotras translator. We were determined to do better this time. Thanks to the cooperation of local customs officials at Orsk and Yasny, and the good work done by our team and our friends at Kosmotras, by late-night the next day (March 29), the seal had been cut on our customs control area at the base, and Genesis II was about to make its first appearance.

Despite the fact that it was already nearly 11 p.m., our team couldn’t wait to get into the AITB and roll Genesis II out after receiving the all-clear from customs. Removing the spacecraft is always an emotional time for all involved, as it signals both the real beginning of the launch campaign and, for me and my deputy in the BA Washington-area office, the successful end to nearly a year’s worth of export-control work.

Removing Genesis II from the sea container and transferring it to the AITB was not done without some sacrifice. Our vehicle engineer tore his shirt from working on the floor below the spacecraft, and our launch operations manager accidentally scraped his hand in a couple of places (BA engineers not only get their hands dirty, but even bloody if that’s what it takes to get the job done!). In the end, with the help of two of our strongest security guards (a good natured, but gigantic, pair of men who I’m very, very glad are on our side), the spacecraft was moved to the AITB, the packaging was off, and for the first time since leaving Las Vegas, we were able to see Genesis II. And what a sight she was.

With the possible exception of launch, the transport from Las Vegas to Yasny represents the harshest environment in terms of stress and loads that the spacecraft will face, making the first time that we laid eyes on Genesis II after the packaging was off an intense moment. However, it didn’t take too long for that intensity to transform into relief as it quickly became apparent that, at least from an external inspection and connecting the battery, everything was nominal.

Genesis II made it out of the U.S., to the Yasny Launch Base, through Russian customs and is doing just fine.

It’s nearly exactly a week after I wrote my last blog … again, almost midnight on a Saturday night, and I’ll go to bed knowing that the first and often, most difficult phase of our launch campaign is completed. Now, the work will be handed over to our talented group of engineers, who have already begun testing and prepping Genesis II for launch.

So, from all of us here at the Yasny Launch Base, the BA team, Kosmotras, DTSA, and Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, we wish all of you in the U.S. our best, and look forward to keeping you apprised as we continue on this adventure.

By Mike Gold, Corporate Counsel, Yasny Launch Base

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