Bezos Kicks Off Club for the Future with Old Fashioned Postal Plan

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In addition to re-unveiling Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander last week, Jeff Bezos launched a venture called the Club for the Future to get students, parents and educators excited about his bold vision for colonizing space and preserving the Earth for future generations.

The club’s first venture aimed at kids who grew up with e-mail, instant messaging, laptops and tablets involves some old fashioned communication:

Draw or write your vision of millions of people living and working in space on the blank side of a self-addressed, stamped postcard, and send it to us. We’ll pack the first 10,000 postcards received before July 20, 2019 inside the Crew Capsule on an upcoming New Shepard flight. Your idea will launch into space! Once New Shepard returns to Earth, we’ll send your postcard back to you, officially stamped “flown to space.” To participate, follow our step-by-step guide below.

It’s a cool idea, getting something that has flown in space. However, I’m guessing a fair number of kids might never have actually mailed a postcard or bought a stamp. Fortunately, Bezos has laid out details on the terms and conditions page.

And what in addition to publicity will Blue Origin get out of it? Free art to use in its promotional campaigns.

I understand and agree that the text, photographs, drawings, and/or creations contained in or affixed to the Space Mail or other CFTF events or activities may be used in the production of promotional materials, on their respective websites, and for other purposes that CFTF or Blue Origin deems appropriate and that such materials may be distributed to the public and displayed publicly one or more times and in different formats, including but not limited to, print, online and video-based marketing, advertising, and fundraising, and in publications and promotional videos as related to CFTF or Blue Origin and its affiliates.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of art is produced by this competition.

NASA and Blue Origin Help Classrooms and Researchers Reach Space

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

By Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

EDWARDS, Calif.  — “We are now on the verge of giving students and teachers the ability to build and fly affordable experiments in space. When teachers are this excited about putting experiments in space, their students can’t help but get excited about space, too.”

Elizabeth Kennick, president of Teachers in Space, does not take the opportunity to fly an experiment to space for granted. The nonprofit organization has worked with educators and engineers to design and test standard equipment for classroom-developed experiments, including 3D-printed frames, customizable processors, power adaptors and more. The equipment first flew on high-altitude balloons and more recently on a stratospheric glider. Now, thanks to support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the equipment will fly higher than ever before: to space on the next launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

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OK Go Launches Art in Space Contest for Blue Origin’s New Shepard

From the website:

OK Go thinks creativity is all about the joy of experimentation. Making a music video in microgravity was one big experiment. We tried all sorts of creative ideas and put them to the test within the limitations of physics and gravity.

Now we want you to try, but in actual space! The Art in Space contest invites your creative art and science minds to dream up your own cool experiments to send into suborbital space onboard the New Shepard spacecraft.

All you need is a great idea — if you win, our experts will help build it.

Bezos: No Asterisks Next to the Names of Blue Origin’s Astronauts

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Two days before Virgin Galactic completed the ninth powered flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital program, rocket billionaire and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos threw some shade at billionaire Richard Branson’s rival suborbital space tourism venture. SpaceNews reports:

Bezos, in the interview, pointed out the altitude difference between the two vehicles. New Shepard has typically exceeded 100 kilometers, an altitude known as the Karman Line, on its test flights. SpaceShipTwo reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers on its most recent test flight Dec. 13, its first above the 50-mile boundary used by U.S. government agencies to award astronaut wings.

“One of the issues that Virgin Galactic will have to address, eventually, is that they are not flying above the Karman Line, not yet,” Bezos said. “I think one of the things they will have to figure out how to get above the Karman Line.”

“We’ve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman Line, because we didn’t want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you’re an astronaut or not,” he continued. “That’s something they’re going to have to address, in my opinion.”

For those who fly on New Shepard, he said, there’ll be “no asterisks.”

On Friday, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity flew to 89.9 km (55.87 miles) on its fifth flight test, which was the highest altitude the program has reached to date.

There are two competing definitions of where space begins. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is awarding civilian astronaut wings to anyone who flies above 50 miles (80.4 km). The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes 100 km (62.1 miles) as the boundary of space, although it is considering lowering the limit to 80 km (49.7 miles).

The FAA awarded astronaut wings to Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who flew VSS Unity above 50 miles in December. The crew of Friday’s flight — pilots David Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci, and chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses — will also qualify for astronaut wings.

New Shepard has flown 10 times without passengers; nine of those flights were above 100 km (62.1 miles). Bezos has said he expects to begin flying people aboard the suborbital spacecraft by the end of this year.

Blue Origin, Masten Vehicles Drive the Highway to Space

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifted off in July 2018 carrying five NASA-supported technologies to flight test in space. (Credit: Blue Origin)

A fledgling industry of rocket and balloon companies is taking science and technology experiments into space-like environments.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — At the edge of space, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, extremely cold, near-vacuum conditions can be an ideal proving ground for space-related science and technology experiments.

“Earth’s atmosphere can interfere with the ability to do certain types of research, and at this height, you’re above a large majority of it,” says Andrew Antonio, director of marketing at World View, a Tucson, Arizona–based company that sends research and other high-altitude balloons into the space-like stratosphere, which he says offers an affordable environment for some space-related research.

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Layoffs at Virgin Galactic & The Spaceship Company

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo take off at 7:11 a.m. PST from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

NMPolitics.net is reporting that there were about 40 layoffs from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company earlier this month as they prepare to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

A Virgin Galactic spokesman confirmed the layoffs in a statement via email.

Recently we separated a small number of our team in order to position our organization for the drive to commercial operations following our successful recent spaceflight, and make room for new skill sets that we need to bring in over the course of this year.  In total we separated around 40 people, less than 5% of our total workforce across Virgin Galactic and TSC. We are offering support to those impacted and sincerely thank them for their contributions, and wish them well for the future.

The news comes on the heels of a decision by SpaceX to lay off about 10 percent of its roughly 6,000 employees. Stratolaunch, which like Virgin Galactic is based in Mojave, announced last week that it was laying off about 50 employees as it down scaled plans for boosters to air launch from its massive aircraft.

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2018 Was Busy Year for Suborbital Flight Tests

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 2 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.

The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.

A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.

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Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

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Blue Origin’s New Shepard Set to Fly on Monday

Editor’s Note: There is a daily notice to airmen (NOTAM) posted for Monday, Jan. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 23 from 1330 to 2000 UTC (8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST/7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. CST).

Falcon 9, Delta IV Heavy and New Shepard Launches Rescheduled

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launches to the International Space Station at 1:16 p.m. EST Dec. 5, 2018, on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  (Credits: NASA Television)

After multiple scrubs, here is the updated launch schedule:

  • Falcon 9 — New date Saturday, Dec. 22 at 8:55 a.m. ET (13:55 UTC)
  • Soyuz — Dec. 26/27
  • Delta 4 Heavy — No earlier than Dec. 30, 2018
  • New Shepard — Early 2019

Tuesday’s Word: Scrubbed

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)
  • Falcon 9 — SCRUBBED — Out of family reading on first stage sensors — rescheduled for Wednesday at 9:07 a.m. EST
  • New Shepard — SCRUBBED — Ground infrastructure issue — next launch window opens no earlier than Friday, Dec. 21
  • Soyuz — SCRUBBED — unfavorable high-altitude wind conditions —  rescheduled for Wednesday at 11:37:14 a.m. EST
  • Delta 4 Heavy — SCRUBBED due to high ground-level winds — rescheduled for Wednesday at 8:44 p.m. EST
  • GSLV Mk.2 — ON SCHEDULE for Wednesday at approx. 5:30 a.m. EST
  • Proton — ON SCHEDULE for Thursday at approx. 7:15 p.m. EST

NASA-Supported Payloads to Get Lift from Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Suborbital space is the perfect environment for researchers to test experiments, edging them closer to inclusion on future exploration and science missions. NASA’s Flight Opportunities program gives researchers this access, funding flights on Blue Origin and other commercial providers.

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This Week in Launches

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

This current launch schedule for this week. Check for updates at https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/

December 18

Falcon 9
Payload: GPS 3-01 navigation satellite
Launch Window: 9:11-9:35 a.m. EST (1411-1435 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

SpaceX’s 21st and final launch of 2018.

New Shepard
Payloads: NASA microgravity experiments
Launch Time: 9:30 a.m. EST/8:30 a.m. CST (1430 GMT)
Launch Site: Van Horn, Texas
Webcast: www.blueorigin.com

Tenth New Shepard suborbital flight.

Soyuz
Payload: CSO 1 – French reconnaissance satellite
Launch Time: 11:37:14 a.m. EST (1637:14 GMT)
Launch Site: Sinnamary, French Guiana
Webcast: www.esa.int

Delta 4-Heavy
Payload: NROL-71 reconnaissance satellite
Launch Time: 8:57 p.m. EST; 5:57 p.m. PST (0157 GMT on Dec. 19)
Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Webcast: https://www.ulalaunch.com/

December 19

GSLV Mk.2
Payload: GSAT 7A communications satellite
Launch Time: Approx. 5:30 a.m. EST (1030 GMT)
Launch Site: Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, India
Webcast: https://www.isro.gov.in/

December 20

Proton
Payload: Blagovest No. 13L communications satellite
Launch Time: Approx. 7:15 p.m. EST (0015 GMT on Dec. 21)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

December 26/27

Soyuz
Payloads: Kanopus-V 5 & 6 Earth observation satellites
Launch Time: 9:07 p.m. EST (0207 GMT on Dec. 27)
Launch Site: Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia

New Shepard to fly 9 NASA-sponsored Payloads to Space on NS-10

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifted off July 18 carrying five NASA-supported technologies to flight test in space.

VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-10) is currently targeting liftoff tomorrow at 8:30 am CST / 14:30 UTC. This will be the 10th New Shepard mission and is dedicated to bringing nine NASA-sponsored research and technology payloads into space through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.
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