Blue Origin Files Pre-award Protest Over USAF Launcher Competition

Defense News reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has filed a pre-award protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the U.S. Air Force’s competition for new launch contracts.

Blue Origin is arguing that the current structure of the launch service provider competition may favor incumbents and will perpetuate a duopoly, according to a Blue Origin fact sheet obtained by Defense News.

“As drafted, the LSP [launch service provider] RFP [request for proposals] includes evaluation criteria that are ambiguous and fail to comply with federal procurement statutes and regulations. This subjectivity of the criteria makes it impossible to accurately respond to the RFP,” the fact sheet states.

“To ensure the process maximizes value for the American taxpayer and protects U.S. national security interests in space, it is essential that the Air Force structure the LSP RFP in a way that fosters a fair and level playing field for new entrants.”

The Air Force released a solicitation for the second phase of the LSP competition in May and intends to downselect to two launch providers in 2020. SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are all slated to vie for the series of contracts, which will be awarded over 2020 to 2024 for launches scheduled through 2027.

NewSpace vs. Big Rocket: FAA’s Overhaul of Launch Regs Splits Industry

Two Launches in One Week: On Aug. 14, 2017, a Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the photo on the left. It was carrying a Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. In the image on the right, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug.18, 2017 placing in orbit NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. (Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

According to who you talk to, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed streamlining of launch and re-entry regulations is either a prudent step forward that provides much-needed flexibility while protecting public safety or a a confusing mess that’s a massive step backward.

(more…)

Bezos Sells $1.8 Billion in Amazon Shares

Jeff Bezos

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos sold $1.8 billion worth of shares in the company in July, according to papers filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He netted about $1.4 billion after taxes from the sale of more than 900,000 shares.

Bezos, who is worth an estimated $116 billion, has said that he has been selling about $1 billion in Amazon stock annually to fund his Blue Origin space company.

Bezos also gave 19.7 millions shares worth nearly $36.8 billion to his former wife, MacKenzie, to settle their divorce.

Amazon Files for Approval to Launch 3,236 Satellites for Internet Services

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com marked Independence Day by filing an application with the Federal Communications Commission to launch 3,236 satellites to provide global Internet services from space. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Amazon in its FCC application said its satellites would operate at altitudes of about 370 to 390 miles (590 to 630 kilometers).

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos last month said the Kuiper project would cost “multiple billions of dollars.” The project is separate from Bezos’ space launch vehicle maker, Blue Origin.

In its FCC filing, Amazon said it would help serve U.S. communities “by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas.” The Kuiper System will help mobile network operators to expand wireless services, Amazon said in its application. It also offered the prospect of “high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels and land vehicles.”

Amazon is in a race with OneWeb, SpaceX and other companies to provide global broadband services from space. SpaceX has received approval for nearly 12,000 satellites and launched the first 60 spacecraft of its Starlink constellation in May. OneWeb launched the first six of a planned 648 satellites in February.











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.











Bezos Re-unveils Blue Moon, BE-7 Engine

Blue Moon lander with payloads. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During a presentation in Washington, DC, today, Jeff Bezos laid out a bold vision humans living in giant cylindrical floating space colonies first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill four decades ago.

On a more immediate, practical front, the Amazon.com founder produced updated concept art for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander he says would be perfect for landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon by 2024 as the Trump Administration has proposed.

(more…)











Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography

Ernest Shackleton

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly a century after his death, Ernest Shackleton is back in the news after Blue Origin tweeted a photo of the Antarctic explorer’s ship, Endurance, with the date 5.9.19.

The tweet has fed speculation that Jeff Bezos’ company might announce a mission next week to a crater at the south pole of the moon that is named after Shackleton. (For more about that, see Why Everyone Interested in Shackleton Crater.)

You might also be asking: Who was Shackleton? What did he accomplish at the South Pole? Why is a crater on the moon named after him? And what does all this have to do with Bezos?

All excellent questions. Let’s find more about one of history’s greatest explorers.

(more…)











Why Everyone is Interested in Shackleton Crater

Updated May 1, 2019 at 9:18 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin tweeted out this picture of Endurance, the ship that polar explorer Ernest Shackleton sailed aboard during an ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914.

The tweet has prompted a lot of speculation about what Bezos’ rocket company will announce next week, and how it connects to a British explorer who has been dead for nearly a century. (For more about Shackleton, see Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography)

My best guess is it will relate to Blue Orgin’s previously announced plans to make cargo deliveries to a crewed lunar base at a crater named for Shackleton at the moon’s south pole.

(more…)











Amazon Constellation Sends Number of Planned Communications Satellites Soaring Above 20,000

F6 satellite (Credit: OneWeb)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has jumped into a crowded field of companies seeking to provide high-speed broadband, data and other communications services to the entire globe.

Amazon’s Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites brings the total number of spacecraft in the 16 announced systems to 20,241 spacecraft. The competition includes SpaceX, Boeing, Telesat, SES and government-backed companies in China and Russia.

(more…)











Blue Origin Plans Major Expansion of Facilities in Florida

Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)

Florida Today reports on plans by Blue Origin to expand its facilities in Florida:

Labeled as “South Campus” in water management district documents obtained by FLORIDA TODAY, the 90-acre expansion will connect to the factory at Exploration Park, which is a publicly accessible region just west of KSC’s main gate. The two-lane Space Commerce Way winds through the area, connecting other players like satellite company OneWeb, economic development agency Space Florida and the main entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The south campus will nearly double the size of land Blue Origin already leases from NASA, enabling the Jeff Bezos-led company to establish “programs complimentary to those constructed on the adjacent North Campus,” according to the documents. Blue will build 270- and 313-foot variants of New Glenn rockets in the massive blue-and-white factory on the north campus, which will launch no sooner than 2021.

Blue Origin’s media team did not respond to an inquiry about the land, which the company leased directly from NASA for 50 years. The total payments over that period will equal $20.3 million according to the final lease signed in December, which was also obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.

Building out a complex and finding a need for additional capacity isn’t uncommon in the spaceflight industry.











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.











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.

(more…)