Blue Origin Completes 4th New Shepard Flight with Passengers

New Shepard NS-20 spaceflight participants. Pictured from left to right: Gary Lai, Jim Kitchen, Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, and Dr. George Nield. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Today, Blue Origin successfully completed its fourth human spaceflight and 20th overall flight for New Shepard. The astronaut manifest included: Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, Gary Lai, and Dr. George Nield. 

“Congratulations to our astronauts on today’s mission above the Kármán Line,” said Phil Joyce, Senior Vice President of New Shepard for Blue Origin. “We had the honor of safely flying this crew of six – each person with their own story of mentorship and passion for human spaceflight. We’re looking forward to many more flights this year, and we’re grateful to our astronaut customers for their trust in this amazing team.”  

Blue Origin is planning more crewed and payload flights throughout 2022 and beyond. If you are interested in flying on New Shepard, visit Blue Origin’s website.  

Customers can now purchase commemorative merchandise from today’s mission on the Blue Origin Shop

Former Top Federal Regulator to Fly on Unregulated Spaceship

Jeff Bezos pins Blue Origin astronaut wings on actor William Shatner. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first three passenger flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard have been long on symbolism. On the first one, Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk, who in 1960 was one of 13 women who underwent the same medical checks as the Original Seven Mercury astronauts. NASA wasn’t accepting female pilots at the time, so Funk had to wait 51 years to reach space.

New Shepard’s second flight included starship Capt. James T. Kirk, or more precisely, the actor who played the “Star Trek” captain, William Shatner. The third flight had Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of America’s first astronaut to fly to space, who launched aboard a vehicle named after her father, Alan.

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Blue Origin Delays Suborbital Flight to March 31 Due to Weather

Blue Origin New Shepard NS-20 spaceflight participants. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin Launch Update

Due to forecasted high winds during launch and recovery operations on Tuesday, March 29, and Wednesday, March 30, the New Shepard Mission Operations team has made the decision to move the launch of NS-20 to Thursday, March 31.

The team has completed Flight Readiness Review and confirmed the vehicle has met all mission requirements for flight. Astronauts are completing their training, and weather remains the only gating factor.

Live launch coverage of NS-20 begins on BlueOrigin.com at 7:20 am CDT / 12:20 UTC. Follow Blue Origin on Twitter to stay up to date on all mission details.

New Shepard’s Chief Architect to Join Suborbital Flight Next Week

Gary Lai in front of a New Shepard capsule on April 14, 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin today announced the sixth crew member joining New Shepard’s 20th mission will be Blue Origin’s Gary Lai, New Shepard Chief Architect. Gary joins the previously announced crew, which includes Marty Allen, husband and wife duo Sharon and Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, and Dr. George Nield.

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SNL Star Pete Davidson Drops Out as Blue Origin Delays New Shepard Launch

Credit: New Shepard

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s 20th flight of New Shepard has shifted to Tuesday, March 29. Pete Davidson is no longer able to join the NS-20 crew on this mission. We will announce the sixth crew member in the coming days.

This mission is the fourth human flight for the New Shepard program and the 20th in its history.  

Live launch coverage begins on BlueOrigin.com at T-60 minutes from Launch Site One in West Texas. 

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Saturday Night Live Star Pete Davidson, Dr. George Nield to Fly on Blue Origin’s 20th Mission

New Shepard takes off with six passengers on Dec. 11, 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin website)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin today announced the crew flying on its upcoming NS-20 flight on March 23 will include Marty Allen, Pete Davidson, husband and wife duo Sharon and Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, and Dr. George Nield. 

This mission is the fourth human flight for the New Shepard program and the 20th in its history.  

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Camden County Officials Hail FAA Decision Granting Spaceport License

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

WOODBINE, Ga. (Camden County PR) — Camden County, Georgia, a rocket testing location and alternate launch site for the Apollo program, has reclaimed its aerospace heritage with the issuance of a launch site operator license (LSOL) by the Federal Aviation Administration for Spaceport Camden. Spaceport Camden is a multi-user, vertical lift, commercial launch site on the Atlantic seaboard that will support up to 12 small vehicle launches per year. 

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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What The New Yorker Gets Wrong About the SpaceShipTwo Accident

SpaceShipTwo debris in storage. (Credit: NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Psychologists have identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are clearly on display in Virgin Galactic’s Rocket Man, Nicholas Schmidle’s profile of Mark Stucky in The New Yorker. A substantial part of the story chronicles how the test pilot dealt with the death of his close friend, Mike Alsbury, in the breakup of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during the vehicle’s fourth powered flight four years ago.

It’s a touching portrait of Stucky’s grief for his fellow Scaled Composites pilot, with whom he had flown while testing the suborbital spacecraft being developed for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. (Stucky later moved over to Virgin, which took over the SpaceShipTwo program after the accident, to test the second SpaceShipTwo, Unity.)

However, Schmidle tells only half the story in his otherwise insightful profile. He places nearly all the blame on Alsbury, while ignoring the findings of a nine-month federal investigation that identified systemic flaws in the development program and the government’s oversight that contributed to the accident.

It’s similar to the flawed, self-serving narrative that Branson used in his latest autobiography, “Finding My Virginity,” complete with a not-entirely-fair jab at the press coverage of the crash. The billionaire uses pilot error to obscure a decade of fatal mistakes and miscalculations.
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Firefly Aerospace Expands Advisory Board With Lightfoot, Nield & Others

CEDAR PARK, Texas, July 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (Firefly), a developer of orbital launch vehicles for the small to medium satellite market, announced today the formation of an all-star advisory board. Members of the board act as ambassadors and advocates of Firefly and support the executive and management teams through consultation and strategic analysis. Initial appointments to the Firefly board are Jeff Bingham, Robert M. Lightfoot, Jr., George Nield, and William F. Readdy.

Jeff Bingham brings nearly 40 years of governmental experience to Firefly. Instrumental in shaping space station policy, he served most recently as the senior advisor on space for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. He was previously the associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Legislative Affairs. Jeff played a key role in ensuring continued congressional support for the ISS as the legislative coordinator for the International Space Station program.
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AIAA to Honor Shotwell, Nield at Gala

George Nield

RESTON, Va., April 2, 2018 (AIAA PR) — The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has announced the 2018 recipients of its most prestigious awards. Presentation of these awards and recognition of the Institute’s newly elected Fellows and Honorary Fellows will take place on May 2 at the AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

The AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala is an annual black-tie event recognizing the most influential and inspiring individuals in aerospace, whose outstanding contributions merit the highest accolades.

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Report: Nield Departure from FAA Linked to Space Deregulation Push

FAA AST’s George Nield

The Wall Street Journal reports that George Nield’s decision to retire as head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) at the end of March is related to dissatisfaction over the pace of deregulating space activities.

But Mr. Nield’s leaving, according to industry and government officials, was prompted at least partly by White House and cabinet-level criticism that his initiatives to ease licensing procedures for rocket launches are proceeding too slowly. Members of the White House Space Council, a senior policy-making group, and the Transportation Department’s deputy secretary have expressed displeasure about the pace of change, these officials said.

The retirement, which was a surprise to some industry officials, also comes in the face of escalating pressure by budding commercial-space ventures to streamline federal rules, cutting the time and expense of obtaining launch licenses and approvals to operate spacecraft in orbit and beyond.

Mr. Nield’s decision could end up accelerating moves by top FAA officials, along with other parts of President Donald Trump’s administration, to ease or roll back regulations covering everything from earth-observation satellites to lunar landers to eventually mining minerals on asteroids.

Last week, the White House policy group chose the Commerce Department to serve as the main catalyst to promote U.S. commercial space ventures, effectively taking that role away from the FAA. During internal administration debates leading up to that public meeting, FAA critics pushed to strip the agency of authority over launch licensing, according to two people familiar with the details.

Mr. Nield’s office, which ultimately answers to the Transportation secretary, retained that responsibility but ended up with overall reduced stature.

Read the full story.











George Nield to Retire from FAA AST

FAA AST’s George Nield

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

George Nield, who has overseen commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the past decade, will be retiring at the end of March, according to SpacePolicyOnline.com.

In his position as associate administration for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), Nield has overseen the granting of launch licenses and experimental permits to Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA, Orbital ATK and other commercial space companies.

Nield has been credited with as being an effective champion of commercial space since joining FAA AST as deputy associate administrator in 2003. He was elevated to his current position upon the retirement of Patti Grace Smith in 2008.

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Branson’s Autobiography: After SpaceShipTwo’s Loss the Blame Game Began

Nitrous oxide and cabin atmosphere vent from the disintegrating SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 3 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

On the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, a nightmarish vision that had haunted me for months became a real-life disaster in the skies over the Mojave Desert. SpaceShipTwo dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, lit its engine and appeared to explode. Pieces of the space plane then began to rain down all over the desert.

The motor had exploded. Or the nitrous oxide tank had burst. At least that’s what I and two photographers – whose pictures of the accident would soon be seen around the world – thought had occurred as we watched the flight from Jawbone Station about 20 miles north of Mojave.

We really believed we had seen and heard a blast nine miles overhead, the photos appeared to show one, and it was the most plausible explanation at the time.

We were wrong. More than two days after the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that co-pilot Mike Alsbury had prematurely unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s feather system during powered ascent. The ship hadn’t blown up, it had broken up as the twin tail booms reconfigured the vehicle with the engine still burning at full thrust.
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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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