Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle reached its highest altitude yet on Wednesday with a successful flight that saw the capsule reach 74 miles above the West Texas desert.
The new altitude record of 389,846 feet (73.8 miles/118.8 km) came courtesy of a high-altitude test of the capsule’s abort system, which activated after the booster stage had stopped firing. The capsule on the previous flight reached 351,000 feet (66.5 miles/107 km).
The rocket booster, making its third flight to space, touched down safely on a landing pad located two miles from where it launched. The capsule later made a soft landing nearby after a flight that lasted 11 minutes 17 seconds.
An instrumented flight dummy dubbed Mannequin Skywalker experienced 10 Gs during the abort test, according to commentary on Blue Origin’s webcast. The capsule also contained a number of experiments.
It was the ninth flight of the New Shepard system. Blue Origin plans to begin flying test passengers later this year and selling tickets to the public in 2019.
VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — An awesome feature of New Shepard is its modular interior design. While in the future it will feature six seats to fly people, we’re already flying science and education experiments for microgravity research.
On Mission 9, we welcome our third round of payload customers from commercial companies, universities and space agencies. They will share the cabin with Blue Origin’s Mannequin Skywalker for their flight to space.
Reuters has an update on Blue Origin’s progress toward flying people aboard its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.
Executives at the company, started by Amazon.com Inc founder [Jeff] Bezos in 2000, told a business conference last month they planned test flights with passengers on the New Shepard soon, and to start selling tickets next year….
One Blue Origin employee with first-hand knowledge of the pricing plan said the company will start selling tickets in the range of about $200,000 to $300,000. A second employee said tickets would cost a minimum of $200,000. They both spoke on condition of anonymity as the pricing strategy is confidential.
The company will do the first test in space of its capsule escape system, which propels the crew to safety should the booster explode, “within weeks,” one of the employees said.
While Blue Origin has not disclosed its per-flight operating costs, Teal Group aerospace analyst Marco Caceres estimated each flight could cost the firm about $10 million. With six passengers per trip, that would mean losing millions of dollars per launch, at least initially.
Tickets aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo cost $250,000, although early ticket buyers will pay $200,000. Richard Branson’s company says it has sold around 650 tickets for the suborbital space hop.
The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.
There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)
The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.
That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.
Space Florida has approved an $1.5 million loan to a lunar landing company and $18.9 million in upgrades and infrastructure improvements to support Blue Origin, SpaceX and an unidentified horizontal launch and landing venture, Florida Todayreports.
At a board meeting Wednesday in Tampa, the state agency responsible for aerospace economic development approved loaning $1.5 million to a company identified only by the code name Project Forge, described as a contender to win contracts under a NASA program developing lunar landers.
Space Florida also committed to spending up to $1 million to upgrade utilities at Kennedy Space Center’s former space shuttle runway to support test flights — as soon as early 2019 — by another unidentified company, referred to as Project Pine.
“This is the first real space user for horizontal launch and landing,” board chairman Bill Dymond said of the three-mile runway that Space Florida is trying to commercialize after the shuttle’s 2011 retirement. “I think that’s very exciting.”
In other business Wednesday, Space Florida’s board approved committing up to $14.5 million to SpaceX’s planned expansion at KSC, and up to $3.4 million for a new engine-related facility that Blue Origin will add to its New Glenn rocket manufacturing site at KSC’s Exploration Park.
Space Florida is scheduled to provide about $18 million to Blue Origin and SpaceX for a pair of projects, Florida Today reports.
Next Wednesday in Tampa, Space Florida’s board of directors will consider two proposals worth $14.5 million supporting SpaceX’s proposed spaceport expansion, including a hangar for Falcon rocket refurbishment and a control tower.
Another $3.4 million would support Blue Origin’s rocket manufacturing site in Exploration Park, a state-run complex on NASA property at the south end of KSC….
Most of the work is described as “common infrastructure improvements,” such as access roads and utilities that could benefit multiple tenants or guests around a site, not just the two private, billionaire-led companies.
SpaceX and Blue Origin have committed to investing $15 million and $30 million, respectively, of their own money in those improvements, and much more on the overall projects.
WASHINGTON, May 31, 2018 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 companies to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA placed a special emphasis on encouraging the responders to find new applications for existing, terrestrial capabilities that could result in future space exploration capabilities at lower costs.
The practice of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) could increase safety and affordability of future human spaceflight missions by limiting the need to launch supplies, such as oxygen and water from Earth. NASA issued Appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement on Dec. 4, 2017. With it, the agency sought three areas of work focused on producing propellant and other exploration mission consumables using water from extraterrestrial soils and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.
Video Caption: This film documents how the first commercial text message ever sent to a spacecraft in space was accomplished. The rocket that contained Solstar’s space communicator, blasted off from Spaceport America in New Mexico USA on November 12, 2013. Solstar CEO, M. Brian Barnett, was the Principal Investigator for the #TextsToSpace mission. The text messages were sent from Solstar’s payload operation center located in Albuquerque, New Mexico USA.
The film was written, directed, and produced by Anne Lower and Geoff Reeves of Apogee and Shadow Works.
By Bob Granath NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida
On Aug. 14, 2017, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was a commercial resupply mission delivering supplies to the International Space Station. Four days later, the agency’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M lifted off on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
This kind of diverse activity is typical at a multi-user spaceport.
This was the eighth launch of the New Shepard system, and the second one with paid experiments aboard. An instrumented crash test dummy named Mannequin Skywalker was aboard for the second time.
The 10-minute flight was apparently nominal. The booster landed successfully and the capsule touched down under three parachutes. The capsule reached an apogee of 347,485 ft (106 km or 65.86 miles), which was a new record for the company but slightly below the 350,000 ft target altitude. (Update: Jeff Bezos tweeted that apogee was actually 351,000 ft, which is the planned operational altitude for future flights.)
Blue Origin officials have said they plan additional flight tests this year. It is possible they will fly test subjects on the vehicle by the end of 2018.
Launch preparations are underway for New Shepard’s 8th test flight, as we continue our progress toward human spaceflight. Currently targeting Sunday 4/29 with launch window opening up at 830am CDT. Livestream info to come. @BlueOrigin#GradatimFerociterpic.twitter.com/zAYpAGWB8C
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith says the next New Shepard flight will occur soon, Space Newsreports.
The next New Shepard test flight should take place soon. “Hopefully in the next few weeks,” Smith said.
Blue Origin has been making updates to the vehicle, he said, intended primarily to improve operability rather than performance or reliability. Those upgrades took longer than expected, he said, hence the four-month gap since the last test flight.
Once the test flights resume, Smith said the company planned several flights to verify the vehicle’s performance before putting people on board. “What we want to do is get a series of flights, test out the incorporation of some of the changes that we’ve made, and then make sure we’ve got a stable configuration that we can repeat several times before we get to first human flight,” he said. That first crewed flight, he said, is expected by the end of the year.
Space News has an update on Blue Origin’s development of its BE-4 engine.
The chief executive of Blue Origin says he expects the company’s BE-4 engine to complete qualification testing by the end of the year as the company ramps up work on its New Glenn orbital rocket.
In an April 19 interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Bob Smith said testing of the BE-4 engine, which uses methane and liquid oxygen propellants, was going well as the company stepped through a methodical process of increased durations and thrust levels.
“We continue to progress along the lines of changing the power levels and going from various throttle settings,” he said. That includes, he said, a test the company announced in March when the engine fired for 114 seconds at 65 percent of rated power. That duration is about half a typical mission duty cycle for the engine.
“We continue to roll through our test program and hope to qualify that engine by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re walking our way through that just to make sure we understand and characterize the engine fully.”
WASHINGTON, DC (mu Space PR) – mu Space Corp today confirmed at the Satellite 2018 that they will launch a geostationary satellite aboard Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital rocket. The launch window starts in late 2020.
Commenting on the announcement, mu Space CEO James Yenbamroong says, “mu Space is opening a new era for satellite communications and space technology for Thailand and the Asia-Pacific region.”