Blue Origin Suddenly Gets Chatty, Announces Launch Delay

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Unlike other commercial space companies I could name (I know who they are, even if they don’t), Blue Origin rarely speaks unless it actually has something to say. So, when videos suddenly appeared on Twitter this morning with tours of the company’s facilities to show their progress on the new New Glenn rocket, I figured it had to be something important.

Sure enough, it was. New Glenn’s maiden flight is now delayed until the fourth quarter of 2022. The original plan was to launch in 2020, and then later this year. Things are clearly progressing slower than anticipated.

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2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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Spaceport Upgrades Launch Kennedy Into Record-Setting Future

An aerial view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2021. The High Bay 3 in the VAB is where NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will be stacked on top of the mobile launcher before it is rolled out atop crawler-transporter 2 to Launch Pad 39B for launch on the agency’s Artemis I mission. (Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

By Heather L. Scott
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

As quickly as the crewed commercial rocket lifted off the launch pad and into the night sky, a new type of space race had begun.

The November 2020 launch of astronauts from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the first operational mission by a commercial company was the culmination of a new form of government and industry cooperation – an example of how vibrant and diverse American space activities have become.

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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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