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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Video of My Appearance on the Tipping Point New Mexico Podcast

Posted by Douglas Messier on Monday, December 21, 2020

On Monday, I joined Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing for an episode of the Tipping Point New Mexico podcast. We talked about the latest developments involving Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America. Topics include:

  • aborted SpaceShipTwo flight test of Dec. 12
  • reasons for 22-month delay in powered flights
  • new Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier’s extravagant vision for the space tourism company
  • why Virgin Galactic hasn’t been able to deliver on promises made to New Mexico taxpayers
  • shakeup in the management at the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, and
  • recent audit that recommended former Spaceport America Executive Director Dan Hicks and ex-CFO Zach DeGregorio be invested for possible criminal charges.

Enjoy!

Virgin Galactic Looks on the Bright Side After Launch Abort

WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a flight 22 months in the making. But, when it came time for the rubber to meet the oxidizer, the whole thing suddenly flamed out.

The hybrid engine on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity failed to fire properly on Saturday, sending the suborbital rocket plane, pilots David Mackay and C.J. Sturckow and a load of NASA-sponsored experiments into a rapid descent and landing back at Spaceport America, instead of a graceful parabolic arc into suborbital space.

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Space Tourism Rewind: Branson & Richardson Announced Spaceport America Deal 15 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

New Mexico to spend $225 million
Commercial spaceflight set to begin in 2010
Virgin Galactic to fly 50,000 peassengers in 10 years

SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

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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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Virgin Galactic Unveils Flight Suits for SpaceShipTwo Pilots

On Friday, Virgin Galactic unveiled new flight suits for the pilots who will fly SpaceShipTwo. The company worked on the suits with Under Armour, which also designed similar garments for passengers.

The press release refers to the pilot garments as spacesuits 16 times even though they do not meet any accepted definition of the word. Per Marriam-Webster:

space suit: a suit equipped with life supporting provisions to make life in space possible for its wearer.

What Virgin Galactic and Under Armour have produced for both crew and passengers are flight suits that provide the wearer with zero protection against the vacuum and radiation of space. To call them spacesuits is false and unacceptable stretching of the word.

You can find the press release and pictures on Virgin Galactic’s website.

Spaceport America Board Approves Spending $20 Million for New Capital Projects

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway” (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Fresh off a stinging report saying that it failed to properly oversee a state-owned facility rife with fraud, waste and abuse, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Board of Directors approved spending up to $20 million on capital improvements to Spaceport America.

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Report Recommends Former Spaceport America Executives be Investigated for Possible Criminal Charges

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)
  • Outside investigation concluded former Executive Director Dan Hicks ignored spending regulations, submitted falsified travel documents, and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary travel and unrealistic projects
  • Hicks portrayed by staff as an incompetent manager who bullied employees
  • Ex-CFO Zach DeGregorio facilitated Hicks’ violations by improperly approving travel and ignoring rules and statutes
  • Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board Chairman Rick Holdridge accused of allowing violations to continue

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A highly critical investigation of Spaceport America has determined the New Mexico state government should consider formal criminal and/or administrative charges against former Executive Director Dan Hicks and former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zach DeGregorio for their mishandling of the spaceport’s finances.

“As detailed above, there is evidence to conclude that Dan Hicks violated criminal and administrative statutes, as well as the State of New Mexico Governmental Compliance Act, and Governor Lujan Grisham’s Code of Conduct, during his tenure as Director of the Spaceport,” the report said.

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Window for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flight Opens Dec. 11

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

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NASA Awards Flight & Integration Services Contracts to Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

EDWARDS, Calif., November 30, 2020 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Virgin Galactic LLC of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California, to provide flight and integration services for payloads chosen by the agency’s Flight Opportunities program, which is managed at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The two companies join four others to provide service under commercial indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts with NASA.

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Virgin Galactic Delays SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Due to COVID-19

SpaceShipTwo Unity in its first powered flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.

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