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First Egyptian and Portuguese spacefliers take a ride

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture sent six more crew members on a suborbital space ride, including the first Egyptian and Portuguese citizens to reach the final frontier.

Thanks to today’s flight from Launch Site One in West Texas, Blue Origin’s list of spacefliers has grown to 31 over the course of a little more than a year. Bezos himself went on the first crewed flight in July 2021, and Florida investor Evan Dick bought two tickets to space.

The lineup for NS-22 — the 22nd mission for the New Shepard suborbital launch system, and the sixth crewed flight — set a couple of precedents. Portugal’s first spaceflier is Mario Ferreira, an entrepreneur, investor and president of Porto-based Pluris Investments. The first from Egypt is Sara Sabry, a mechanical and biomedical engineer who founded a nonprofit called Deep Space Initiative. Sabry was the second Blue Origin crew member sponsored by Space for Humanity, a nonprofit that supports citizen astronauts.

Rounding out the “Titanium Feather” crew were Coby Cotton, a co-founder of the Dude Perfect sports/entertainment channel; Vanessa O’Brien, a British-American explorer and former banking executive; Clint Kelly III, who helped pioneer technologies for driverless cars; and Steve Young, former CEO of Young’s Communications LLC.

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Blue Origin crew will mark firsts for Egypt and Portugal

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture still has some final-frontier firsts up its sleeve: Today the company said its next crewed suborbital flight will send up the first spacefliers to hail from Egypt and Portugal.

But when will they fly? The launch date is still up in the air.

The lineup for Blue Origin’s sixth crewed mission — which is known as NS-22 because it’s the 22nd flight overall, including uncrewed flights — will also include a co-founder of the Dude Perfect sports/entertainment video venture, a British-American mountaineer, a driverless-car pioneer and a former telecom executive.

Today’s crew announcement comes a year and two days after Blue Origin’s first-ever crewed flight, which sent Bezos and three others beyond the 100-kilometer Karman Line that marks the internationally accepted boundary of outer space.

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After SpaceX trip, citizen astronaut joins Blue Origin

Seattle-area data engineer Chris Sembroski got his first taste of space last year during an orbital trip in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, but now he’s got a full-time job in the space industry — as an avionics engineer at Blue Origin.

In today’s Twitter update, Sembroski made no mention of the rivalry between SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, who founded the Blue Origin space venture as well as Amazon.

Instead, he played up the allure of the space frontier, as reflected in newly released pictures from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. “Space beckons us. It taunts us,” he wrote.

“Images of our universe from Hubble and JWST pull on our desires to explore and to seek out new adventures,” Sembroski said. “I am thrilled to be a part of our expansion out to the rest of the universe — AND to announce I have joined @blueorigin! Let’s go!”

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Blue Origin space trip marks firsts (and seconds)

Blue Origin sent the first Mexican-born woman and the first crypto-crowdfunded crew member into space today, marking the fifth crewed suborbital flight for Jeff Bezos’ space venture.

In addition to the firsts, there was a “second”: the first Blue Origin customer to take a repeat trip to space.

The New Shepard spaceship lifted off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 8:26 a.m. CT (6:26 a.m. PT), sending the crew to a maximum altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers) above sea level — beyond the 100-kilometer Karman Line that marks the internationally accepted boundary of outer space.

While New Shepard’s reusable booster flew itself back to a landing pad, the crew enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness and an astronaut’s-eye view of Earth. Just a little more than 10 minutes after launch, New Shepard’s crew capsule made a parachute-aided landing amid the Texas rangeland.

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Space trip blazes a trail for getting a ticket to ride

The suborbital tours provided by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin’s space venture have been notable for who was flying, but the mission set for launch today is just as notable for how some of its crew members are getting to fly.

One spaceflier, Katya Echazarreta, is the first beneficiary of Space for Humanity’s Citizen Astronaut Program, a philanthropic effort that sponsors spaceflights for worthy applicants. Echazarreta, an electrical engineer who’s the co-host of the YouTube series “Netflix IRL” and a member of CBS’ “Mission Unstoppable” team, will be the first Mexican-born woman to reach the final frontier.

In an Instagram post, Echazarreta said she looks forward to experiencing the Overview Effect, a broadening of perspective associated with viewing Earth from space. “I plan on coming back ready to continue changing the world,” she wrote.

Another crew member, Victor Correa Hespanha, will be the second Brazilian to fly in space and the first “cryptonaut.” His seat is sponsored by the Crypto Space Agency, which is funded entirely by the NFT community through mint proceeds. Hespanha won the trip in a lottery.

“My first dream is to become a soccer player,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “And the second one is to be an astronaut, because I have so many curiosities to explore in the universe.”

Evan Dick, an investor at Dick Holdings LLC, will be the first person to take a second flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. He was one of the crew members for last December’s NS-19 mission, flying alongside the daughter of pioneering Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard.

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Amazon makes a huge deal for satellite launches

Amazon has secured as many as 83 launches on three types of heavy-lift rockets to put more than 1,500 satellites into low Earth orbit for its Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation over the course of five years.

If Amazon follows through on all the reservations announced today, the campaign would carry a multibillion-dollar price tag and arguably represent the space industry’s largest launch procurement for a single commercial project.

“Securing launch capacity from multiple providers has been a key part of our strategy from day one,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said today in a news release. “This approach reduces risk associated with launch vehicle stand-downs and supports competitive long-term pricing for Amazon, producing cost savings that we can pass on to our customers.”

Amazon’s Project Kuiper aims to offer satellite broadband internet service to tens of millions of people around the world who are currently underserved. The $10 billion project has been in the works for three years, and won the Federal Communications Commission’s go-ahead in 2020. But it’s considered far behind SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband service, which is already available on a limited basis.

Like Starlink, Project Kuiper is headquartered in Redmond, Wash. More than 1,000 Amazon employees are currently working on Kuiper, and the project’s careers website lists more than 300 open positions.

Dave Limp, senior vice president for Amazon Devices & Services, said Project Kuiper is making good progress. “We still have lots of work ahead, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of our satellite system,” he said. “These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, and we’re proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission.”

Twelve launch reservations have been made with Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash.-based space venture owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Those launches would use Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which is closing in on a first launch in 2023 or later. Amazon also has an option to buy up to 15 additional New Glenn launches.

Amazon has reserved another 38 launches on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is due to have its first liftoff as early as this year. Those missions would be in addition to nine previously reserved launches on ULA’s existing Atlas V rockets.

New Glenn and Vulcan are designed to lift off from separate launch complexes at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Arianespace has agreed to set aside 18 launches of its heavy-lift Ariane 6 rocket, which is due to make its debut as early as this year at the European consortium’s spaceport in French Guiana. Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said the launch contract with Amazon is “the largest we’ve ever signed.”

The FCC license requires Amazon to launch at least half of its planned 3,236-satellite constellation by 2026, and today Amazon said its procurement plan should meet that schedule. That translates to more than 1,618 satellites, potentially launched by the nine Atlas V rockets and the rockets mentioned today.

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Jeff Bezos’ ventures team up on space station effort

Amazon and its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, say they’re joining forces with another company founded by Jeff Bezos to support the development of a commercial space station known as Orbital Reef.

Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is one of the leaders of the Orbital Reef project, along with Colorado-based Sierra Space. Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering and Arizona State University are also part of the consortium.

Last December, Orbital Reef won a $130 million award from NASA to move ahead with the design of an orbital outpost that could fill the gap when the International Space Station is retired in the 2030-2031 time frame. Two other teams — led by Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman — also won NASA funding to flesh out their space station concepts.

In a blog posting, AWS said it would provide services and technology tools to support Orbital Reef’s development from the engineering design phase to on-orbit networking and operations. Amazon would contribute its expertise in logistics to streamline delivery and inventory management of space station supplies.

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Husband and wife score a first on Blue Origin space trip

Say hello to the final frontier’s latest power couple: Marc and Sharon Hagle, who became the first husband-and-wife team to fly on a commercial spaceship today during a suborbital trip provided by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

The Hagles and four other spacefliers blasted off from Launch Site One in Texas aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship at 8:58 a.m. CT (6:58 a.m. PT) after a series of holds. There was no immediate word about the reason for the holds.

The flight profile for today’s mission — which is known as NS-20 because it was the 20th flight for the company’s reusable New Shepard launch system — followed the precedent set by three previous crewed flights: The hydrogen-fueled booster lofted the crew capsule to an unofficial altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers), giving the sextet a few minutes of weightlessness and an astronaut’s-eye view of a curving Earth beneath the black sky of space.

After stage separation, the autonomously controlled booster touched down on a landing pad, not far from the launch pad, while the crew capsule floated down to make a parachute-aided landing amid the West Texas rangeland. The flight took a little more than 10 minutes from the booster’s launch to the capsule’s landing.

Cries of “Woo-Hoo” could be heard from the crew over the capsule’s communication channel just after touchdown. Sharon Hagle gave a fist pump — and gave a hug and a kiss to her husband — as the couple emerged from the capsule.

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Are space trips trending toward becoming routine?

When Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture sends its next crew on a suborbital ride to space, as early as March 31, there won’t be any TV celebrities on board. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

“I’m personally seeing more and more people I know flying on each flight … and that’s more exciting to me than celebrity fliers,” Laura Seward Forczyk, the owner of the Atlanta-based space consulting firm Astralytical, told GeekWire in an email. “People in my network flying makes it feel much closer and more accessible.”

Folks who aren’t space consultants, or space geeks, might be hard-pressed to name a single member of the sextet — although they’d probably remember that “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson gave up his seat due to a scheduling conflict.

To fill that seat, Blue Origin chose its own Gary Lai. He’s the chief architect for the New Shepard suborbital spaceship that’s due to take off from the company’s Launch Site One amid the rangeland of West Texas. Assuming all systems are go, launch coverage via Blue Origin’s website and YouTube is set to begin at 7:20 a.m. CT (5:20 a.m. PT), with liftoff expected around 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT).

This mission, known as NS-20, marks the 20th outing for Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard launch system and the fourth crewed flight.

Headliners for the three previous trips included Jeff Bezos and aviation pioneer Wally Funk for last July’s debut; Star Trek captain William Shatner for October’s sequel; and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of pioneer NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, plus morning-show anchor Michael Strahan for December’s three-peat.

On the NS-20 mission, Lai will be joined by Marc and Sharon Hagle, the first married couple to fly in space together since 1992; George Nield, a former Federal Aviation Administration official who was involved in regulating commercial spaceflight; Jim Kitchen, a teacher and entrepreneur from North Carolina; and Marty Allen, an angel investor and former CEO of Party America.

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Blue Origin’s next space crew waits out the weather

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has rescheduled its next crewed suborbital space mission for March 31, due to concerns about the weather.

In a mission update, Blue Origin said “forecasted high winds during launch and recovery” forced a postponement of the liftoff from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. The National Weather Service said winds could reach sustained levels of 35 to 45 mph on March 29, with gusts up to 60 mph.

Six spacefliers — including the first married couple to go into space together in 30 years — have signed on for Blue Origin’s fourth crewed suborbital flight.

“The team has completed Flight Readiness Review and confirmed the vehicle has met all the mission requirement for flight,” Blue Origin said. “Astronauts are completing their training, and weather remains as the only gating factor.”