Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic Eye Human Spaceflights in 2018

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.

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SpaceX Ruled Roost in 2017, Boosting U.S. to No. 1 in Global Launches

Falcon 9 carries the Dragon cargo ship into orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.

The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.

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Blue Origin New Shepard Flies Commercial Payloads

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wa. (Blue Origin PR) — On Dec. 12, 2017, New Shepard flew again for the seventh time. Known as Mission 7 (M7), the flight featured our next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0. While our primary objective was to progress testing this new system for human spaceflight, we also achieved an exciting milestone with suborbital research in space by sending 12 commercial, research and education payloads under full FAA license for the first time.

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Updates From Blue Origin, Space Angels, Exos Aerospace & More

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference was held in Colorado earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks tweeted the sessions:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are summaries of a number of talks based on their tweets.  The talks included Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Dylan Taylor of Space Angels, John Quinn of Exos Aerospace, Tim Lachenmeier of Near Space Corporation, Lewis Groswald of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Alain Berinstain of Moon Express.

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JHU APL Monitoring Instrument Rides into Space on New Shepard Vehicle

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

LAUREL, Md. (JHU APL PR) — The newest realm of space travel is closer to home than many think, but still shrouded in mystery. And while Earth’s upper atmosphere may soon be a destination for tourists, scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, are blazing a research trail in this “suborbital” region with the launch of an instrument to study flight conditions 60 miles above ground.

The JANUS integration and monitoring platform flew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle on Dec. 12. The device, about the size of a car battery, will provide researchers with a look at suborbital conditions from inside a crew capsule.

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Future Looks (Mostly) Bright for Space Industry in DC


The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through today. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
  • Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are updates based upon their tweets on what is happening in Washington, DC, from talks by officials from the FAA, NASA, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
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Update on Blue Origin New Shepard Flight

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through Wednesday. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News

Below is an update on Blue Origin’s New Shepard program based on their tweets.

Jeff Ashby
Chief of Mission Assurance
Blue Origin

  • Flawless New Shepard flight test last week
  • First commercial flight under a launch license issued by FAA — allows Blue Origin to collect revenues (unlike previous experimental permit)
  • New vehicle incorporates lessons learned from earlier flight test program that finished in October 2016
  • Roughly one year away from New Shepard human flight tests, 18-24 months from flights with human-tended payloads
  • Waiting until the commercial service version of the system is flying to sell tickets for New Shepard flights
  • Capsule has full environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) and triple redundancy as well as pusher escape system
  • New Shepard flights will have about three minutes of microgravity
  • 5 G’s peak experienced during reentry
  • Proprietary landing system provides a soft landing for capsule and its occupants and experiments
  • One day of training required that will include mission simulation and emergency egress instruction
  • Centrifuge training at NASTAR will not required for New Shepard flights
  • Flight will be conducted early in morning due to calmer winds at that time
  • Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Al Worden have expressed interest in flying
  • System designed to be rapidly reusable
  • Takes about two weeks to turn around New Shepard for relaunch
  • Goal is to reduce turnaround to one week with 20 operational personnel
  • Blue Origin landed a booster from space first (before SpaceX)
  • Watching a rocket land is even cooler than watching them launch
  • Shift from “used” rockets to “flight proven” has been a good thing
  • New Glenn orbital rocket will have 7-meter payload to accommodate larger payloads

NASA Funds Flight for Space Medical Technology on Blue Origin

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas (NASA PR) — Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard reusable space vehicle on Dec. 12 carrying a medical technology that could potentially treat chest trauma in a space environment.

The New Shepard reusable vertical takeoff and vertical landing space vehicle was launched with the experimental technology from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site.  In addition to NASA funding non-government researchers to fly payloads, Blue Origin is a Flight Opportunities program launch provider for government payloads. The Flight Opportunities program, is managed under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

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Video of Mannequin Skywalker’s Flight Aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Video Caption: Footage taken from onboard cameras. Full mission recap:

New Shepard flew again for the seventh time on Dec. 12, 2017, from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. Known as Mission 7 (M7), the mission featured the next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0. Crew Capsule 2.0 features large windows, measuring 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall. M7 also included 12 commercial, research and education payloads onboard. Crew Capsule 2.0 reached an apogee of 322,405 feet AGL/326,075 feet MSL (98.27 kilometers AGL/99.39 kilometers MSL). The booster reached an apogee of 322,032 feet AGL/325,702 feet MSL (98.16 kilometers AGL/99.27 kilometers MSL).

Embry-Riddle Research Payloads Flew Aboard New Shepard

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Embry-Riddle experiments in space could help with cancer treatment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ­(Embry-Riddle PR) — For less than four minutes at the edge of space, T-cells from mice in an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University experiment in partnership with the University of Texas Health Science Center and the Medical University of South Carolina were exposed to microgravity onboard a successful Blue Origin launch in the hope of one day finding new treatments for cancer.

The payload from Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus flew Dec. 12 on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle to assess how microgravity impacts the cellular processes of T-cells or T-lymphocytes, which develop from stem cells in the bone marrow and are key to the immune system.

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Blue Origin New Shepard Flight Included Mannequin Skywalker

Mannequin Skywalker — an instrumented test dummy — flew aboard the New Shepard capsule. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard flight included an instrumented test dummy dubbed Mannequin Skywalker — a nod to the Star Wars moving coming out this week and a prelude to tests with human occupants that could begin next year.

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NanoRacks Integrates Largest New Shepard Payload Manifest to Date

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas, December 8, 2017 (NanoRacks PR)– NanoRacks is pleased to have taken part in yet another successful Blue Origin New Shepard space vehicle mission. This morning marked New Shepard’s 7th flight, and the third flight in which NanoRacks has managed customer payload integration.
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Details on Blue Origin New Shepard Flight

Crew Capsule 2.0 after a successful landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

New Shepard Mission 7 Test Flight
Mission Fact Sheet

Mission Overview

New Shepard flew again for the seventh time on Dec. 12, 2017, from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. Known as Mission 7 (M7), the mission featured the next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0.

  • Crew Capsule 2.0 features large windows, measuring 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall.
  • M7 also included 12 commercial, research and education payloads onboard.

M7 Mission Details

  • Launch time: 10:59 a.m. CST
  • Booster Apogee
    • o 322,032 feet (AGL) (98.16 kilometers)
    • 325,702 feet (MSL) (99.27 kilometers)
  • Crew Capsule 2.0 Apogee
    • 322,405 feet (AGL) (98.27 kilometers)
    • 326,075 feet (MSL) (99.39 kilometers)
  • Maximum ascent velocity: Mach 2.94
  • Booster maximum descent velocity: Mach 3.74
  • Booster re-ignition: 3,716 feet (AGL)
  • Controlled vertical landing of Booster: 6.75 mph
  • Deployment of Crew Capsule 2.0 drogue parachutes: 6,463 feet (AGL)
  • Landing of Crew Capsule 2.0 under parachutes: 11:10 a.m. CST
  • Total mission elapsed time: 10 minutes and 6 seconds

Video of Blue Origin New Shepard Flight

Video Caption: New Shepard flew again for the seventh time on Dec. 12, 2017, from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. Known as Mission 7 (M7), the mission featured the next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0.

Crew Capsule 2.0 features large windows, measuring 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall. M7 also included 12 commercial, research and education payloads on board.

Crew Capsule 2.0 reached an apogee of 322,405 feet AGL/326,075 feet MSL (98.27 kilometers AGL/99.39 kilometers MSL). The booster reached an apogee of 322,032 feet AGL/325,702 feet MSL (98.16 kilometers AGL/99.27 kilometers MSL).

Editor’s Note:  Jeff Bezos tweeted that an instrumented test dummy was on board the spacecraft.

Blue Origin Scrubs for the Day

New Shepard in flight (Credit: Blue Origin)

Report indicates that Blue Origin scrubbed the launch of its upgraded New Shepard rocket and capsule this afternoon. The flight had been set for 1 p.m. EST (12 p.m. CST), then was pushed back an hour before being scrubbed. The uncrewed suborbital capsule is set to carry experiments.

No word on the cause of the scrub or when the flight might be rescheduled at Blue Origin’s test site near Van Horn, Texas. The company has issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) to stay clear of the area during potential flight hours through Thursday.

This will be the first launch of a New Shepard suborbital system since October 2015. A new booster and spacecraft have been built incorporating upgrades based on lessons learned from the earlier series of six launches.