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.

(more…)

Video: Why Hasn’t Space Tourism Taken Off?

Video Caption: Listening to Richard Branson over the past 20 years, you’d be forgiven for assuming that space was by now being frequented by lots of tourists. However, despite the Virgin Galactic chief’s optimism, the space tourism industry has yet to take off. Up to now there have been only seven self-funded citizens in space. And with billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the space race, why are there still no tourists in space?

New Shepard Successfully Completes Mission with NASA Precision Lunar Landing Technology Onboard

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

CORN RANCH, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin successfully completed the 13th New Shepard mission to space and back, and the 7th consecutive flight for this particular vehicle, a record. Catch the mission webcast replay on Blue Origin’s YouTube page.

(more…)

Blue Origin Plans Launch of New Shepard on Tuesday Morning

Blue Origin scrubbed the launch last month due to “a potential issue with the power supply to the experiments.” To read more about the experiments and technology that will be tested, you can click below:

Testing Super Foods for Space and More on Blue Origin Suborbital Flight

The microgravity LilyPond growth chamber uses capillary action to provide a stable water surface on which duckweed (and potentially other veggies, like microgreens) can grow. LED panels provide an efficient light source, and a salad spinner-like sieve helps separate the water from the plants when ready to harvest. (Credits: Space Lab Technologies)

Duckweed: it’s what’s for dinner

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

EDWARDS, Calif. — It’s no surprise to most of us that regularly eating fresh produce is a great way to support a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables benefit astronauts on the International Space Station, too – and soon the Moon and beyond. Scientists are investigating sustainable ways to grow highly nutritious foods in microgravity, to give space explorers a readily available supply of daily greens.

(more…)

NASA Tipping Point Partnership with Blue Origin to Test Precision Lunar Landing Technologies

by Clare Skelly
NASA Headquarters

WASHINGTON — From the rim of Shackleton crater to permanently shadowed regions on the Moon, a NASA-developed sensor suite could allow robotic and crewed missions to land precisely on the lunar surface within an area about half the size of a football field.

Technologies to enable exact and soft landings on the Moon and other worlds will fly on Blue Origin’s next New Shepard suborbital rocket launch, currently targeted for 11:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 24. The company’s live launch webcast will start at 10:30 a.m. and air on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

(more…)

Blue Origin Schedules Next New Shepard Launch for Thursday

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 on May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Next New Shepard Launch Will Test Key Technologies with NASA for Returning to the Moon 

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-13) is currently targeting liftoff for Thursday, September 24, at 10:00 am CDT / 15:00 UTC. Current weather conditions are favorable. This will be the 13th New Shepard mission and the 7th consecutive flight for this particular vehicle (a record), demonstrating its operational reusability. 

You can watch the launch live at BlueOrigin.com. The pre-show begins at T-30 minutes and will provide mission details, including a special update from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

(more…)

Technology Developed for Lunar Landings Makes Self-Driving Cars Safer on Earth

Electro-Optics Lead Aram Gragossian (left) and Integration Lead Jake Follman configure the electronics within an NDL engineering test unit for remote software testing while in a lab on center at NASA’s Langley Research Center. (Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA is advancing a laser-based technology designed to help spacecraft land on a proverbial dime for missions to the Moon and Mars. The technology will undergo testing on upcoming suborbital rocket launches with Blue Origin on its New Shepard rocket and ride to the Moon on several commercial landers as part of the Artemis program. Simultaneously, companies are using the technology to help self-driving cars navigate rush hour traffic on this planet.

(more…)

NASA Technology Enables Precision Landing Without a Pilot

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Margo Pierce
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

Some of the most interesting places to study in our solar system are found in the most inhospitable environments – but landing on any planetary body is already a risky proposition. With NASA planning robotic and crewed missions to new locations on the Moon and Mars, avoiding landing on the steep slope of a crater or in a boulder field is critical to helping ensure a safe touch down for surface exploration of other worlds. In order to improve landing safety, NASA is developing and testing a suite of precise landing and hazard-avoidance technologies.

(more…)

Uplift Aerospace is Using Rockets in Space as a New Platform for Evolutionary Artwork

MIAMI (Uplift Aerospace PR) — Uplift Aerospace is exploring the limits of evolutionary art by painting commissioned pieces on the exterior of a Blue Origin spacecraft and launching them to space and back on an upcoming New Shepard mission. Internationally renowned artists are collaborating with Uplift Aerospace and the heavens to create this historic artwork.

(more…)

Shad Canada Brings Space Exploration Online with Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

WATERLOO, Ont. (Shad Canada PR) – Canada’s premier STEAM enrichment program, Shad Canada, is launching a 20-day online program that concludes with a spaceflight competition with Blue Origin. In an unprecedented move to pivot their legacy live-in program in the face of COVID-19 closures, Shad has designed a STEAM program with synchronous online sessions for 600 high school students.

(more…)

Langley Researchers Are Shaking Up Lunar Landing Technology

Navigation doppler LIDAR instrument (Credit: NASA)

The Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL) project team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, recently delivered a key component of the instrument to Blue Origin in Kent, Washington, for integration on their New Shepard launch vehicle for an upcoming flight test.

NDL is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program where Blue Origin and NASA are testing a suite of key lunar landing technologies in support of the Artemis Program.

The NDL instrument is comprised of a chassis, containing electro-optic and electronic components, and an optical head with three telescopes. The chassis was delivered to Blue Origin in March, following a virtual pre-ship review after Langley moved into the mandatory telework phase of its COVID-19 response.

The optical head was not delivered at that time because it needed to complete vibration testing to ensure it would be able to survive the launch and flight environments.

Team members continued working remotely, providing virtual support during integration of the NDL chassis at the Blue Origin’s headquarters facility, software support, and planning for a return to onsite work.

In June, members of the NDL team, following stringent health and safety protocols, successfully completed the optical head vibration testing and a pre-ship review to deliver the optical head to Blue Origin.

The optical head is scheduled for integration on to the New Shepard launch vehicle in preparation for an upcoming flight demonstration.

Fiber Optic Sensing System Readied for Space Use

Allen Parker, Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) senior research engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, and Jonathan Lopez show how FOSS in aeronautics is used on a wing to determine its shape and stress on its structure. (Credits: NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will soon test an enhanced system that can take thousands of measurements along a fiber optic wire about the thickness of a human hair for use in space. In the future the technology could monitor spacecraft systems during missions to the Moon and landings on Mars.

(more…)

NASA to Release RFI for Astronauts to Fly on New Shepard, SpaceShipTwo

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine floated this idea during the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference back in March. They’re clearly moving forward with it.

Bridenstine has mentioned that NASA needed some sort of plan to certify the vehicles. It will be interesting to see what the space agency will require of Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo before conducting any astronaut training on the suborbital systems.

The vehicles can provide several minutes of continuous weightless as well as experience in rocket-powered acceleration and re-entry.

Astronauts train aboard aircraft flying parabolic arcs that provide about 25 seconds of microgravity at a time. NASA contracts for training with Zero Gravity Corporation, which uses a modified Boeing 727.

The Year of the Four Spaceships: A Progress Report

The Expedition 63 crew welcomes Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA / Bill Stafford)

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 nearly half the year over, I thought it would be a good time to review the companies’ progress toward those milestones.

(more…)