Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin aims to send astronaut’s daughter to space

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning to fly six suborbital space travelers next month, which would mark a first for the company’s New Shepard spaceship. And that’s far from the only first.

If the NS-19 mission proceeds as planned on Dec. 9, the people on board will include the first parent-and-child team in space, the first professional U.S. journalist in space, and the first daughter of an astronaut to go into space herself.

To cap it all off, the astronaut’s daughter is Laura Shepard Churchley — whose father, Alan Shepard, was the first American in space in 1961, providing the inspiration for New Shepard’s name.

“It’s kind of fun for me to say an original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard,” Churchley, 74, said in a video clip released by Blue Origin. “I’m really excited to be going on a Blue Origin flight. I’m very proud of my father’s legacy.”

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos plays up the Earth-space connection

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has been getting a lot of press lately, but the Amazon founder and chairman says he’s spending more money nowadays on Earth’s environmental welfare through his Bezos Earth Fund.

Four and a half years ago, Bezos told reporters that he was selling about a billion dollars’ worth of his Amazon stock on a yearly basis to put toward Blue Origin.

But at least for the time being, he says that’s trumped by his $10 billion, 10-year commitment to the Bezos Earth Fund, which distributes grants to projects around the globe. During this month’s U.N. climate summit in Scotland, the fund announced a $2 billion round of grants supporting land restoration and food production.

Bezos cited the funding during last week’s Ignatius Forum at the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. as evidence that he wasn’t just a starry-eyed billionaire with no concern about Earth’s welfare.

Categories
GeekWire

Weeks after Blue Origin trip, spaceflier dies in plane crash

A month after taking a suborbital space trip alongside Star Trek actor William Shatner, medical-technology entrepreneur Glen de Vries has died in a New Jersey small-plane crash.

New Jersey State Police identified de Vries, 49, as one of two people killed on Thursday when their single-engine Cessna 172 went down in a wooded area shortly after takeoff from Caldwell, N.J. The other fatality was Thomas P. Fisher, 54, NJ.com quoted authorities as saying.

De Vries was the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a medical software company that was acquired by Dassault Systemes in 2019 for $5.8 billion. He bought a ticket for an undisclosed price from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture to go on the company’s second crewed suborbital spaceflight in October – and trained alongside Shatner as well as Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen and Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin practices with simulated orbital rocket

It’ll be at least another year before Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket gets its first launch, but Jeff Bezos’ space venture has brought out a dummy version of New Glenn’s first stage to practice for that eventual countdown.

The 188-foot-long, 23-foot-wide simulator emerged from Blue Origin’s rocket factory in Florida last week.

In a series of tweets, the company said the GS1 simulator would “enable the team to practice ground ops for New Glenn’s massive first stage, including the transport from the rocket manufacturing complex to LC-36 for integration.”

“While not destined for flight, this hardware is giving our team invaluable data to inform future launch vehicle operations,” Blue Origin said.

Categories
GeekWire

A win for SpaceX: Blue Origin loses lunar lander lawsuit

A federal judge today rejected Blue Origin’s challenge to a $2.9 billion contract that NASA awarded to SpaceX for building the lunar lander destined to carry astronauts to the moon.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture had argued that NASA gave overly wide leeway to SpaceX in advance of the contract award in April — but Judge Richard Hertling of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rejected Blue Origin’s arguments. His opinion was sealed, pending a Nov. 18 conference to discuss which details needed to be redacted for competitive reasons.

In a statement, NASA said that it would resume work with SpaceX under the terms of the contract “as soon as possible.”

Bezos tweeted that today’s ruling was “not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.”

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin leads team for ‘Orbital Reef’ space outpost

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is joining forces with Colorado-based Sierra Space and a host of other partners, including Boeing, to propose building a space-based “mixed-use business park” called Orbital Reef.

The plan, announced today at the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, is among about a dozen proposals being submitted to NASA for a share of development funds under a program aimed at preparing the way for replacing the International Space Station.

If Blue Origin and its partners follow through on the plan, the basic version of Orbital Reef would be in low Earth orbit sometime during the latter half of the 2020s — in time for an orderly transition from ISS operations. That version would include power-generating capability, a core module with picture windows looking down on Earth, a habitat provided by Sierra Space and a Boeing-built science lab.

Blue Origin’s senior vice president of advanced development programs, Brent Sherwood, told me that Orbital Reef would cost “at least an order of magnitude less” than the International Space Station. The development cost for the International Space Station is typically estimated at $100 billion, which would imply a cost in the range of $10 billion for Orbital Reef.

Categories
GeekWire

Real-life space trip wows Star Trek’s starship captain

Reality caught up with science fiction today when Star Trek actor William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk, briefly crossed into outer space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

In the process, the 90-year-old Shatner took the title of oldest human in space, less than three months after 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk set that record on Blue Origin’s first-ever crewed flight.

“How about that, guys?” Shatner could be heard saying during the descent. “That was unlike anything they described. … That was unlike anything you could ever feel.”

Today’s mission at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas was the 18th for the New Shepard breed of spaceships, including 16 uncrewed flights over the past six years. It marked a bright day for Jeff Bezos’ Kent, Wash.-based space venture, coming amid a set of challenges and controversies.

Categories
GeekWire

How to watch William Shatner beam up to space

More than a half-century after William Shatner first played a starship captain roaming the galaxy in “Star Trek,” he’s getting a real-life ride to the edge of space — and you can watch the whole episode on real-life communicators, thanks to internet links that didn’t exist when the original TV series was made.

Shatner has had a long Hollywood career since then, including prime-time parts in TV series such as “T.J. Hooker” and “Boston Legal.” It’s been 28 years since he’s starred in a Star Trek movie  But if nothing else, the seasoned actor knows how to milk his signature role.

“It looks like there’s a great deal of curiosity about this fictional character — Captain Kirk — going into space,” Shatner said in a video released today by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. “So let’s go along with it and enjoy the ride.”

If all goes according to plan, Shatner and three shipmates will enjoy their ride in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship at 9 a.m. CT (7 a.m. PT) Oct. 13, at the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. Blue Origin plans to stream coverage of the countdown via its website, starting 90 minutes before liftoff.

Categories
GeekWire

Star Trek space trip refocuses spotlight on Blue Origin

Star Trek captain William Shatner’s scheduled suborbital space trip is bringing a renewed flood of attention to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — but like a movie reboot, the storyline is more complex the second time around.

Three months after Bezos took a seat on his company’s first-ever crewed spaceflight, Shatner’s celebrity is sparking a string of feel-good interviews, with his three fellow fliers playing supporting roles. Tech entrepreneurs Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries are paying undisclosed fares. Like Shatner, Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s VP for New Shepard mission and flight operations, is flying for free.

The foursome are scheduled to lift off from Launch Site One in West Texas at 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT) Wednesday, aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. They’re in the midst of a couple of days of pre-launch training, documented on this morning’s network news shows.

Most of the interviews touched upon the one-day delay in the flight due to a forecast of unacceptable winds for Tuesday, but during the CBS interview, Shatner volunteered a shout-out to Bezos’ long-term vision of having millions of people living and working in space.

“Jeff Bezos’ concept of doing all this is to build industry, homes, to live in close connection with Earth and function close to Earth,” Shatner said on CBS. “And that’s a vision that I think is very practical and worth getting behind.”

Categories
GeekWire

Weather forces a delay in William Shatner’s space trek

The Starship Enterprise never had to delay its mission to seek out new life and new civilizations due to bad weather, but that’s precisely what Star Trek captain William Shatner is facing in his real-life bid to become the world’s oldest spaceflier aboard Blue Origin’s suborbital rocket ship.

Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, says the 90-year-old actor and his three shipmates are now due to fly on the company’s New Shepard craft on Oct. 13 rather than Oct. 12, due to a forecast for unacceptable winds at the West Texas launch site on the originally scheduled date.

Shatner is already at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One after flying in from the New York Comic Con. He’s joined by Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, Medidata co-founder Glen de Vries and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president for New Shepard mission and flight operations.

Boshuizen and de Vries are paying an undisclosed fare for their trips, while Powers and Shatner are flying as Blue Origin’s special guests.

According to today’s advisory, weather is the only concern for launch.

“As part of today’s Flight Readiness Review, the mission operations team confirmed the vehicle has met all mission requirements and astronauts began their training today,” Blue Origin said.