A prototype spaceship module built by a U.S. private space firm has sent back some pictures taken by cameras aboard after one day in Earth orbit, its builder said on Thursday.
The Genesis-1 spacecraft, built by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace, is a one-third scale prototype of the commercial space station module in future.
Launched into orbit atop a Russian rocket on Wednesday, the module now appears to be in good shape and is expected to circle the planet for several years while scientists study its durability.
It also carried insects that scientists hope to study to determine how well they survive the harsh space environment including exposure to space debris and radiation.
According to Robert Bigelow, founder of the Bigelow Aerospace, his control center in Las Vegas received pictures from the cameras aboard the spacecraft.
"While most of these current communication streams are dedicated to command and control of the spacecraft, we have downloaded several small images from the onboard cameras and hope to get more as more bandwidth in the data stream becomes available," he said in a short statement.
"All Systems are operating within expected parameters. Temperature, avionics, solar arrays and battery power all remain positive," added Bigelow, who is also the owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain.
"All of our initial orbits have had direct sunlight, which has helped in charging the main battery to maximum capacity...We have had multiple contacts with the ship, and received several data streams."
Bigelow, dreaming of building the world's first space hotel made up of several inflatable and expandable modules, has invested his personal assets of 75 million dollars into the venture.
Those modules would not only serve as the technological foundation for eventual space tourist housing and use of similar structures on the Moon and Mars, but also support made-in-microgravity product development, Bigelow said.
A second prototype named Genesis-2, similar in construction and purpose to its predecessor, is expected to launch later this year or early 2007. It will help the firm fill gaps left by Genesis-1 in terms of vehicle performance and capability.
The company expects to have six to 10 sub-scale demonstrator flights, which will help establish both the technology and the business-case necessary for the deployment of a full-scale, private sector expandable habitats.