Latest Blue Origin Launch Tests Technologies of Interest to Space Exploration

NASA SFEM-2 team poses in front of the Blue Origin capsule after a successful launch and landing that tested sensor technologies for measuring critical data, such as acceleration, pressure, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and acoustic levels inside a spacecraft. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas (NASA PR) — On July 18, 2018, at 8:35 am PDT, Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket from the company’s West Texas launch site with five NASA-supported technologies onboard. For each of these payloads, this flight was one in a series of suborbital demonstrations to facilitate technology development.

The flight helped researchers collect critical data to help them confirm theories, refine previous results and fine-tune experiments for future testing.

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Blue Origin Moves Closer to Human Flights with New Shepard Test

New Shepard booster over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — New Shepard flew for the ninth time on July 18, 2018. During this mission, known as Mission 9 (M9), the escape motor was fired shortly after booster separation.

The Crew Capsule was pushed hard by the escape test and we stressed the rocket to test that astronauts can get away from an anomaly at any time during flight. The mission was a success for both the booster and capsule. Most importantly, astronauts would have had an exhilarating ride and safe landing.

This isn’t the first time we’ve done this type of extreme testing on New Shepard. In October of 2012, we simulated a booster failure on the launch pad and had a successful escape.

New Shepard capsule parachutes to a safe landing (Credit: Blue Origin)

Then in October of 2016, we simulated a booster failure in-flight at Max Q, which is the most physically strenuous point in the flight for the rocket, and had a completely successful escape of the capsule.

This test on M9 allowed us to finally characterize escape motor performance in the near-vacuum of space and guarantee that we can safely return our astronauts in any phase of flight.

Also on M9, New Shepard carried science and research payloads from commercial companies, universities and space agencies. Learn more about the payloads on board here.

You can also view the full replay of M9 on YouTube.

Until our next test launch, Gradatim Ferociter!

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Makes Successful Flight

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.

Manifest for Blue Origin’s New Shepard Flight on Wednesday

Credit: Blue Origin

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.

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Report: Tickets on Blue Origin’s New Shepard to Cost at Least $200,000

New Shepard crew capsule (Credit: Blue Origin)

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.

Mid-Year Global Launch Report: China & USA Continue to Battle for Lead

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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…)

SpaceX to Launch Majority of 4,000 Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Space Florida Approves Funding for Multiple Projects

Conceptual SpaceX hangar for Falcon maintenance and storage

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 Today reports.

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.

Florida to Subsidize SpaceX & Blue Origin Projects at KSC

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.

NASA Selects US Companies to Advance Space Resource Collection

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.

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Solstar Sends First Commercial Text Message to Space

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.

Multi-user Kennedy Space Center is Home to Diverse Activities

Two Launches in One Week: On Aug. 14, 2017, a Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the photo on the left. It was carrying a Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. In the image on the right, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug.18, 2017 placing in orbit NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. (Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph)

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.

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Blue Origin Conducts Successful New Shepard Flight Test

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.