US space launch regulators have cleared a prototype Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space module for a scheduled orbital mission in November 2005.

Payload certification by the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation (AST) office is a key step in the entrepreneurial firm's plan to sponsor a $50 million prize for a privately developed vehicle capable of docking with its planned Nautilus space habitat in orbit by January 2010.

Next year, the Las Vegas-based company plans to launch the unmanned Genesis module for orbital testing, says Bigelow counsel Michael Gold. The 4m (13ft)-diameter Genesis is due to be launched first on a SpaceX Falcon V rocket, followed by a Russian launch in 2006.

The FAA spent eight months reviewing Bigelow's application for payload approval, the first for a commercial inflatable habitat. The approval will be considered again when SpaceX submits a licence application for the Falcon V launch. The licence certificates that the payload meets FAA standards for radiation exposure and construction material

Source: Flight International