New Shepard to Fly with Astronaut Experience Upgrades on Thursday

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard flight is targeting liftoff tomorrow, January 14, at 9:45 AM CST/15:45 UTC from Launch Site One in West Texas. Mission NS-14 is the 14th flight for the New Shepard program.

For this mission, the crew capsule will be outfitted with upgrades for the astronaut experience as the program nears human space flight. The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat. The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems. The capsule will be outfitted with six seats, including one occupied by Mannequin Skywalker.  

Also inside the capsule, Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future will fly more than 50,000 postcards to space and back from students around the globe. A selection of postcards will fly in Mannequin Skywalker’s pockets. This is the third batch of Club for the Future postcards flown to space. To participate in the postcard program, go here.  

All mission crew supporting this launch are exercising strict social distancing and safety measures to mitigate COVID-19 risks to personnel, customers, and surrounding communities.   

Launch coverage begins at T-30 minutes on BlueOrigin.com. Follow  @BlueOrigin on Twitter for launch updates.  

Blue Origin Plans New Shepard Flight on Thursday

Blue Origin will attempt the 14th launch of its New Shepard launch vehicle on Thursday, Jan. 14 from its facility outside Van Horn, Texas. The launch window opens at 9:45 a.m. EST/8:45 a.m. CST (1445 UTC). The window closes on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 4 p.m. EST/3 p.m. CST (2100 UTC).

Blue Origin has not made an announcement about the flight or its objectives. Wikipedia says it will be an uncrewed qualification test of New Shepard 4, whose capsule is designed to carry passengers. The first three New Shepard vehicles carried scientific experiments.

The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

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NASA Tests, Infuses Software into Blue Origin Landing Tech

Example of feature matching during the lunar descent simulated by BlueNav-L. (Credits: NASA)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA is working with commercial companies to advance navigation and landing capabilities for future missions to the Moon.

Engineers recently tested NASA-developed navigation software with a navigation system developed by Blue Origin of Kent, Washington. During the testing, engineers ran a live simulation of a landing at the Moon’s South Pole. The NASA software successfully integrated with Blue Origin’s lunar navigation system, called BlueNav-L.

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NASA Selects Blue Origin’s New Glenn Rocket for Launch Services  Catalog 

New Glenn on the launch pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Today, NASA awarded Blue Origin a NASA Launch Services II (NLS II) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to launch planetary, Earth observation, exploration, and scientific satellites for the agency aboard New Glenn, Blue Origin’s orbital reusable launch vehicle.

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Suborbital Space Again, NASA-supported Tech on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

EDWARDS, Calif. — Successful space and suborbital technology developments require ingenuity, understanding of mission and science needs, and testing. For many technologies matured with support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the ability to undergo testing multiple times – and often on different types of commercial flight vehicles – adds the necessary rigor and refinement to advance these innovations.

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National Team Submits Artemis Human Lander Proposal to NASA

Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — The National Team submitted its Option A proposal this week to land the first woman and next man on the Moon in partnership with NASA. Blue Origin leads the Human Landing System (HLS) National Team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper.

Together, these partners guided Apollo, established routine orbit cargo transfer, developed today’s only crewed lunar spaceship, and pioneered planetary precision landing with liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen vehicles. The proposed solution uses flight heritage and modularity to manage risk, move fast, and attain sustainable operations on the Moon.   

During the base period alone, the National Team is completing 25 technical demonstrations, making key progress toward NASA’s mission. Watch this video to learn more about the technical demonstrations and the approach to get America back to the Moon to stay.   

Blue Origin’s BE-7 Engine Testing Continues in Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s BE-7 engine program continues its testing at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. This week, the program accomplished the fourth thrust chamber test of its high-efficiency engine. The hotfire testing further validates the engine that will power Blue Origin’s  National Team Human Landing System (HLS) in support of NASA’s Artemis program. 

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Blue Origin Announces Board of Advisors

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin today announced the formation of its Board of Advisors, which includes notable former government space leaders and industry executives. The Board will provide strategic counsel on the company’s mission to radically reduce the cost of access to space and the utilization of in-space resources. In doing so, the Board will further advance Blue Origin’s vision of millions of people living and working in space to benefit the Earth. 

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Keeping Spacecraft on Course with Propellant Management Technologies

Carthage students Taylor Peterson (left) and Celestine Ananda are shown here observing the gauging of unsettled liquids during a period of microgravity on a flight with ZERO-G in November 2018. (Credits: Carthage College)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

Rocket off course? It could be a slosh problem.

Propellant slosh, to be exact. The motion of propellant inside a rocket-based launch vehicle or spacecraft tank is an ever-present, vexing problem for spaceflight. Not only can it make gauging the amount of available propellant difficult, but the volatile waves of liquid can literally throw a rocket off its trajectory.

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Northrop Grumman Completes Preliminary Design Review for NASA’s Gateway Crew Module

Artist illustration of Northrop Grumman’s HALO module and the Power Propulsion Element which form the first critical component of NASA’s Gateway. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Company based the design for HALO on its flight-proven Cygnus spacecraft

DULLES, Va., Nov. 18, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has successfully completed its initial preliminary design review (PDR) event for the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). The module will serve as living quarters for astronauts at the Gateway during lunar exploration missions.

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Report: Loverro Feared 2024 Moon Landing Would be Imperiled by Boeing Contract Protest

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

A former senior NASA official violated procurement regulations in his dealings with Boeing out of fear the company could delay the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, The Washington Post reports.

The Post reports that NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration Doug Loverro reached out to Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton in February to tell the company it would not win a study contract for the Human Landing System, a vehicle that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The call came at a time when NASA was not to contact any of the bidders.

Loverro, who abruptly resigned in May, wanted to find out if Boeing planned to protest its loss. If so, NASA would need to issue stop work orders to the winning bidders until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on the protest. GAO reviews usually take months.

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OIG Audit: NASA Gateway Elements Behind Schedule, Over Budget

Artemis Gateway (Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s attempt to use innovative acquisition practices to speed up development of the lunar Gateway has left the first two elements of the station over budget and behind schedule, according to a new audit from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

It is also unlikely the human-tended Gateway will be capable of supporting the planned 2024 mission to land American astronauts at the south pole of the moon, the audit concluded.

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