Categories
GeekWire

NASA lays out its plan for another moon lander

NASA has laid out its plan for choosing a second commercial venture to build a landing system capable of carrying astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

The venture would provide a competitive alternative to SpaceX’s lunar landing system, which is based on its Starship design and won a $2.9 billion NASA contract last April. The Starship lunar lander is scheduled to take on an uncrewed test mission to the moon in 2024, followed by the first crewed lunar landing for NASA’s Artemis program in 2025.

“We expect approximately one human landing per year, over a decade or so, and these are not isolated missions,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today. “Each is going to build on the past progress. … And all of that is, of course, in preparation for us then to have the first human mission to Mars late in the 2030s or 2040.”

When SpaceX won NASA’s nod last April, two competitors for the contract — Alabama-based Dynetics and a team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — complained that NASA should have made more than one award, in the interest of promoting competition. Some members of Congress, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., made similar arguments.

Nelson said the new program, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development contract or NextSTEP Appendix P, would address those complaints. “I promised competition, so here it is,” he told reporters.

If the program proceeds according to plan, the second company’s landers would go into service in the 2026-2027 time frame, starting with an uncrewed test mission to the lunar surface.

Categories
GeekWire

Pete Davidson scrubs his suborbital space ride

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has called off plans to put “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson on the next flight of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship. “Pete Davidson is no longer able to join the NS-20 crew on this mission,” Blue Origin said today in a tweet. The company said that liftoff from Launch Site One in West Texas has been delayed from March 24 to March 29.

Categories
GeekWire

Comedian Pete Davidson gets his space trip confirmed

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has confirmed that “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson will be going to space next week, less than a year after he portrayed a hapless Mars astronaut on NBC’s late-night sketch show.

Bezos won’t be accompanying Davidson, even though that was the impression given by some of last week’s gossip about the flight. Instead, five paying passengers will be riding alongside the 28-year-old actor, who co-wrote and starred in a semi-autobiographical movie titled “The King of Staten Island” in 2020.

The other five spacefliers listed in today’s announcement are:

  • Marty Allen, an angel investor and the former CEO of Party America and California Closet Company, among other ventures.
  • Marc Hagle, the president and CEO of Tricor International, a residential and commercial property development corporation.
  • Sharon Hagle, the founder of SpaceKids Global, a nonprofit organization focusing on STEAM+ education, with a special emphasis on empowering girls. SpaceKids participates in the Postcards to Space program led by the Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s educational foundation. Marc and Sharon Hagle are husband and wife.
  • Jim Kitchen, a teacher, entrepreneur and explorer who has served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School since 2010.
  • George Nield, a former associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation who is now the president of Commercial Space Technologies.

Blue Origin said Davidson would be getting a free flight as the company’s guest. The company declined to say how much the other fliers would be paying for their trips.

Categories
GeekWire

‘SNL’ comedian is reportedly up for a space ride

Comedian Pete Davidson co-starred with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk last year in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch about a slacker astronaut named Chad, but it sounds as if Davidson could soon go into space for real — courtesy of Musk’s rival space billionaire, Jeff Bezos.

According to the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column, Davidson is close to signing up for a suborbital space trip on the New Shepard rocket ship built by Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

“Pete is excited,” according to an unnamed Page Six source said to be familiar with Davidson’s plans. “They haven’t signed a contract yet, but it looks like it’s going to happen. The details are being finalized.”

Blue Origin, which is based in Kent, Wash., launched three crewed suborbital space missions from its West Texas spaceport last year and is reportedly keen to pick up the pace this year. Page Six quoted its source as saying the timing for Davidson’s flight is still up in the air.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin explores new frontiers in Phoenix and Denver

Blue Origin says it’s hiring in Phoenix and Denver — two Western cities that represent relatively new frontiers for Jeff Bezos’ space venture.

The downtown Phoenix office is focusing on “avionics, systems engineering and integrated supply chain,” Blue Origin says on its career website, while the South Denver office will focus on “program management, systems engineering, avionics, software, integration and mission design” in support of Blue Origin’s launch vehicle and space systems programs.

The Denver area happens to be home to a growing number of space ventures, including past and present partners in some of Blue Origin’s high-profile projects.

Lockheed Martin, for example, was part of a Blue Origin-led team that bid unsuccessfully to build the first crewed lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis program. United Launch Alliance is a customer for Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engines, while Sierra Space is a major partner in Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef space station project.

And speaking of Orbital Reef, the Phoenix area is home to Arizona State University, which is leading the space station project’s research advisory group.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin tests a giant nose cone for its orbital rocket

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is still months away from the first launch of its orbital-class New Glenn rocket, but tests that were recently conducted at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are boosting confidence that the rocket’s cavernous nose cone, or fairing, will work as intended.

In a video released today via Twitter and Instagram, Blue Origin touted the first jettison test of the 7-meter-wide (23-foot-wide) fairing at Glenn Research Center’s Armstrong Test Facility Space Environments Complex in Ohio. The test was designed to ensure that the fairing would split apart cleanly to allow for payload deployment.

The complex houses the world’s largest vacuum chamber, measuring 100 feet in diameter and 122 feet in height. “It’s the only place in the world that we can test out this fairing in an environment similar to what the rocket will be seeing in space,” said Shawna Sherwood Ryan, a project manager and test conductor at Blue Origin.

Blue Origin said the test “validated acoustics, cleanliness and environments that payload customers are expecting.”

Categories
GeekWire

NASA puts 12 companies on its latest launch list

NASA has chosen a dozen companies to provide commercial launch services for relatively small-scale space missions over the next five years, including two ventures with Washington state connections.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. will be eligible for shares of the $300 million that’s been set aside for fixed-price contracts under a program known as NASA’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare Missions, or VADR.

Although Blue Origin’s corporate headquarters are in Kent, Wash., NASA is listing Blue Origin Florida as one of its VADR choices. That reflects the fact that orbital launches would be conducted from Florida using the company’s New Glenn rocket, which is still under development. Spaceflight Inc., meanwhile, specializes in organizing rideshare missions that make use of other companies’ rockets.

VADR is a successor to NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program, and focuses on launching payloads ranging from CubeSats no bigger than a shoebox to somewhat larger spacecraft that are built for risk-tolerant Class D missions.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin to acquire pioneering space robotics company

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has struck a deal to acquire Honeybee Robotics, a trailblazer in the business of building specialized tools for space probes.

The deal with Honeybee’s parent organization, Ensign-Bickford Industries, is expected to close in mid-February. Financial terms were not disclosed. EBI has owned Honeybee since 2017.

Honeybee said it would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Bezos’ privately held company — which is headquartered in Kent, Wash. — but would continue with “business as usual,” with major operations based in Colorado and California.

Founded in 1983, Honeybee has delivered more than 1,000 advanced projects to customers in fields ranging from defense robotics and medical devices to mining and Mars exploration. It built the rock abrasion tools for NASA’s Opportunity and Spirit rovers on Mars, and the drills for the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.

In the years ahead, Honeybee’s sampling hardware is due to be flown to the moon in support of NASA’s Artemis program — and to Titan, a smog-covered moon of Saturn, as part of the Dragonfly mission.

Categories
GeekWire

IPO brings in $287.5M to spend on space ventures

A blank-check company that has former Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson as its CEO has completed a $287.5 million initial public offering, furthering its plans to link up with ventures focusing on space, cybersecurity and energy innovation.

C5 Acquisition Corp. closed the IPO with the sale of 28.75 million units at $10 per unit, which was 3.75 million units above the original allotment for sale. Those units are now listed as CXAC.U on the New York Stock Exchange, and common stock is expected to be listed as CXAC.

Blank-check companies — formally known as special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — use their capital to pursue mergers or other types of business combinations with ventures in targeted industry segments.

The strategy typically accelerates the process of going public, and it’s been used with a growing number of space ventures, including Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, BlackSky and Astra. Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw played a key role in the SPAC deal involving Astra, which set that company’s value at $2.1 billion.

In a news release, C5 Acquisition Corp. said it would look for deals related to national security concerns.

Categories
GeekWire

Year in Space 2021: Commercial spaceflight era dawns

For 25 years, I’ve been recapping the top stories about space and looking forward to next year’s trends on the final frontier — and for most of that time, the dawn of the era of commercial spaceflight has been one of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most.

2021 was the year when that era truly dawned.

Sure, you could make a case for seeing the dawn in 2000, when a company called MirCorp basically leased Russia’s Mir space station for a commercial venture that fizzled out. Or in 2001, when customers began buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft heading to the International Space Station. You could also point to SpaceShipOne’s rocket trips in 2004, which won a $10 million prize for a team backed by Seattle billionaire Paul Allen.

But it wasn’t until this July that the first paying customer took a suborbital ride to space on a privately owned spaceship. That was Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who flew in Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule alongside the company’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and aviation pioneer Wally Funk.