Blue Origin, Masten Vehicles Drive the Highway to Space

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifted off in July 2018 carrying five NASA-supported technologies to flight test in space. (Credit: Blue Origin)

A fledgling industry of rocket and balloon companies is taking science and technology experiments into space-like environments.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — At the edge of space, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, extremely cold, near-vacuum conditions can be an ideal proving ground for space-related science and technology experiments.

“Earth’s atmosphere can interfere with the ability to do certain types of research, and at this height, you’re above a large majority of it,” says Andrew Antonio, director of marketing at World View, a Tucson, Arizona–based company that sends research and other high-altitude balloons into the space-like stratosphere, which he says offers an affordable environment for some space-related research.

(more…)

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…)

2018 Was Busy Year for Suborbital Flight Tests

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 2 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.

The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.

A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.

(more…)

Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

(more…)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Set to Fly on Monday

Editor’s Note: There is a daily notice to airmen (NOTAM) posted for Monday, Jan. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 23 from 1330 to 2000 UTC (8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST/7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. CST).

Falcon 9, Delta IV Heavy and New Shepard Launches Rescheduled

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launches to the International Space Station at 1:16 p.m. EST Dec. 5, 2018, on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  (Credits: NASA Television)

After multiple scrubs, here is the updated launch schedule:

  • Falcon 9 — New date Saturday, Dec. 22 at 8:55 a.m. ET (13:55 UTC)
  • Soyuz — Dec. 26/27
  • Delta 4 Heavy — No earlier than Dec. 30, 2018
  • New Shepard — Early 2019

Tuesday’s Word: Scrubbed

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)
  • Falcon 9 — SCRUBBED — Out of family reading on first stage sensors — rescheduled for Wednesday at 9:07 a.m. EST
  • New Shepard — SCRUBBED — Ground infrastructure issue — next launch window opens no earlier than Friday, Dec. 21
  • Soyuz — SCRUBBED — unfavorable high-altitude wind conditions —  rescheduled for Wednesday at 11:37:14 a.m. EST
  • Delta 4 Heavy — SCRUBBED due to high ground-level winds — rescheduled for Wednesday at 8:44 p.m. EST
  • GSLV Mk.2 — ON SCHEDULE for Wednesday at approx. 5:30 a.m. EST
  • Proton — ON SCHEDULE for Thursday at approx. 7:15 p.m. EST

NASA-Supported Payloads to Get Lift from Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Suborbital space is the perfect environment for researchers to test experiments, edging them closer to inclusion on future exploration and science missions. NASA’s Flight Opportunities program gives researchers this access, funding flights on Blue Origin and other commercial providers.

(more…)

This Week in Launches

New Shepard booster over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

This current launch schedule for this week. Check for updates at https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/

December 18

Falcon 9
Payload: GPS 3-01 navigation satellite
Launch Window: 9:11-9:35 a.m. EST (1411-1435 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

SpaceX’s 21st and final launch of 2018.

New Shepard
Payloads: NASA microgravity experiments
Launch Time: 9:30 a.m. EST/8:30 a.m. CST (1430 GMT)
Launch Site: Van Horn, Texas
Webcast: www.blueorigin.com

Tenth New Shepard suborbital flight.

Soyuz
Payload: CSO 1 – French reconnaissance satellite
Launch Time: 11:37:14 a.m. EST (1637:14 GMT)
Launch Site: Sinnamary, French Guiana
Webcast: www.esa.int

Delta 4-Heavy
Payload: NROL-71 reconnaissance satellite
Launch Time: 8:57 p.m. EST; 5:57 p.m. PST (0157 GMT on Dec. 19)
Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Webcast: https://www.ulalaunch.com/

December 19

GSLV Mk.2
Payload: GSAT 7A communications satellite
Launch Time: Approx. 5:30 a.m. EST (1030 GMT)
Launch Site: Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, India
Webcast: https://www.isro.gov.in/

December 20

Proton
Payload: Blagovest No. 13L communications satellite
Launch Time: Approx. 7:15 p.m. EST (0015 GMT on Dec. 21)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

December 26/27

Soyuz
Payloads: Kanopus-V 5 & 6 Earth observation satellites
Launch Time: 9:07 p.m. EST (0207 GMT on Dec. 27)
Launch Site: Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia

New Shepard to fly 9 NASA-sponsored Payloads to Space on NS-10

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifted off July 18 carrying five NASA-supported technologies to flight test in space.

VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-10) is currently targeting liftoff tomorrow at 8:30 am CST / 14:30 UTC. This will be the 10th New Shepard mission and is dedicated to bringing nine NASA-sponsored research and technology payloads into space through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.
(more…)

PLD Space, Airborne Systems North America sign to Develop Llauncher Recovery Systems

ARION 1 & 2 technology demonstration. (Credit: PLD Space)

PLD Space is developing a family of recoverable launch vehicles
Airborne Systems has almost 100 years of experience in the EDLS systems

ELCHE, Spain — October 3, 2018 (PLD Space PR) — Airborne Systems has developed a parachute recovery system for PLD Space to advance the development of their recoverable launch vehicle family (ARION 1 and ARION 2). Drawing on almost 100 years of experience with the design and development of Entry, Descent and Landing Systems (EDLS), Airborne Systems provide a solution consisting of a Drogue parachute Subsystem and a Main parachute subsystem.

(more…)

The Adventures of SpaceShipTwo: Inverted Flight, Wonky Gyros & an Impatient Billionaire

SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Nicholas Schmidle has an interesting profile of Virgin Galactic test pilot Mark Stucky in the New Yorker that sheds some light on what’s been going on at Richard Branson’s space company. I’ve excerpted some interesting passages below.

If you’ve been watching the videos of  SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s first three powered flights and thinking to yourself, Gee, it looks like that thing really wants to roll…well, you’d be right. Here’s an account of the first flight on April 5.
(more…)

Latest Blue Origin Launch Tests Technologies of Interest to Space Exploration

NASA SFEM-2 team poses in front of the Blue Origin capsule after a successful launch and landing that tested sensor technologies for measuring critical data, such as acceleration, pressure, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and acoustic levels inside a spacecraft. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas (NASA PR) — On July 18, 2018, at 8:35 am PDT, Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket from the company’s West Texas launch site with five NASA-supported technologies onboard. For each of these payloads, this flight was one in a series of suborbital demonstrations to facilitate technology development.

The flight helped researchers collect critical data to help them confirm theories, refine previous results and fine-tune experiments for future testing.

(more…)