Categories
Cosmic Space

A new SpaceShip and a falling Starship

Virgin Galactic rolls out the successor to SpaceShipTwo, debris from SpaceX’s failed Starship test flight sparks questions from the FAA, and Blue Origin seeks to expand its rocket manufacturing site in Florida. Get the details on the Web:

Say hello to SpaceShip III

The next iteration of Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered space plane looks like a shinier version of SpaceShipTwo, but Space News reports that the structure of the vehicle has been adjusted to make it lighter and more efficient as well as easier to build, inspect and maintain.

The first craft in the SpaceShip III line has been christened VSS Imagine, with flight tests due to begin this summer. The second SpaceShip III, VSS Inspire, is under construction in Mojave, Calif. Virgin Galactic is still considering whether to build a third III or move ahead to a next-generation space vehicle. Meanwhile, SpaceShipTwo (a.k.a. VSS Unity) is due to take on another flight test in May, eventually leading up to suborbital space tours for paying customers.

Starship breakup sparks questions

Today wasn’t a good day for SpaceX’s Starship flight test program. The company’s latest super-rocket prototype, SN11, was launched amid obscuring fog at the Boca Chica manufacturing and test facility in South Texas. The craft blasted through the murk to an altitude of 10 kilometers, as planned, but “something significant happened shortly after landing burn start,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported in a tweet. According to Ars Technica, there were indications of trouble with the rocket’s belly flop maneuver on the way down.

The result? SN11 broke up into pieces, including lots of pieces that rained down on the area around the launch pad. “At least the crater is in the right place!” Musk tweeted. He said the problem should be corrected for SN15, which is due to roll out to the launch pad in a few days. The Verge reports that the Federal Aviation Administration will oversee SpaceX’s investigation of the anomaly, and that investigators want more information about the reports of falling debris.

Blue Origin to expand rocket factory

Blue Origin New Glenn rocket factory
Blue Origin has its New Glenn rocket factory in Florida. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning a major expansion of its Florida manufacturing site, the Orlando Business Journal reports. Development plans filed with Florida state officials on March 26 indicate that the company will expand into 70 acres just south of its existing Cape Canaveral campus. The acreage is an abandoned citrus grove that’s part of NASA’s property at Kennedy Space Center and is being leased to Blue Origin, according to the Orlando Business Journal. (Orlando’s WFTV picked up the report.)

Blue Origin hasn’t announced a construction timeline for the project it calls “South Campus Phase 2.” The centerpiece of the campus is a 750,000-square-foot manufacturing complex where Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket is being built. New Glenn is currently due to make its launch debut in late 2022.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin delays New Glenn rocket’s first flight

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says it’s targeting the fourth quarter of 2022 for the first flight of its orbital-class New Glenn rocket — which marks a major schedule shift.

The company had previously planned to conduct its first New Glenn launch from Florida by the end of this year, although it was becoming increasingly clear that timeline wouldn’t hold.

In a blog posting, Blue Origin said its team “has been in contact with all of our customers to ensure this baseline meets their launch needs.”

Blue Origin noted that the updated timeline follows the U.S. Space Force to stop its support for the New Glenn development effort as part of its procurement program for national security launches. That support, which could have added up to $500 million, was closed out at the end of last year.

The Space Force ended up choosing United Launch Alliance and SpaceX for the next round of national security launches. Jarrett Jones, Blue Origin’s senior vice president for New Glenn, told Space News that losing out on that round of launch contracts represented a $3 billion hit to anticipated revenue, and forced the company to “re-baseline” its development plans.

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos names rocket recovery ship after his mom

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk named his rocket recovery vessels after science-fiction spaceships, but Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stayed closer to home for the christening of the ship that his Blue Origin space venture will use for at-sea rocket landings.

In an Instagram post, Bezos said he and his siblings surprised their mom, Jacklyn Bezos, by revealing that the 600-foot recovery ship would be named after her. A video included in the post shows Jacklyn Bezos smashing a bottle of bubbly against the hull, then waving to a cheering crowd.

The landing platform vessel has had several names during its more than two decades of existence. For most of that time, it was known as the Stena Freighter. But when Blue Origin purchased the ship in 2018 and had it brought to Florida for refurbishing, it was clear that it’d be only a matter of time before a new name was painted on its prow.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA puts Blue Origin’s big rocket on its wish list

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture hasn’t yet finished its orbital-class New Glenn rocket, but today NASA put it on the “on-ramp” for future missions.

The NASA Launch Services II contract, or NLS II for short, essentially puts New Glenn on the list of options available for ordering through June 2025, with an overall period of performance through 2027. As described in a NASA news release, NLS II is a contracting vehicle that can cover multiple suppliers and multiple awards on the basis of indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity.

NLS II contractors must be able to use a domestic launch service to deliver payloads weighing a minimum of 551 pounds (250 kilograms) to a 124-mile (200-kilometer) orbit at an inclination of 28.5 degrees, which matches Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s coordinates. Such contractors include United Launch Alliance for the Atlas 5 rocket, SpaceX for the Falcon 9, and Northrop Grumman for the Antares.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin shows off its mission control room

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture hasn’t yet completed its first New Glenn rocket, but it has completed a glittering control room in Florida for New Glenn’s missions to orbit.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin drops fresh hints about ‘busy year’

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has lifted the curtain just a bit more on plans for its New Shepard suborbital spaceship and its orbital-class New Glenn rocket.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

GAO sides with Blue Origin in launch dispute

New Glenn
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. (Blue Origin Illustration)

The Government Accountability Office is agreeing with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture that the Air Force needs to amend its rules for deciding who’ll get future contracts for national security space launches.

Today’s GAO decision comes in response to Blue Origin’s pre-award protest over the Air Force’s National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement, which was filed in August when Blue Origin and three other companies submitted their bids for future procurements.

The launches covered by the process would be executed between 2022 and 2026, and are sure to bring billions of dollars to the companies that are selected.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin spaceships inspire Lego toy designs

Blue Moon Lego lander
The Lego version of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander would include the ascent element for a crewed mission. (Lego Ideas Image / Valerie Roche / Matthew Nolan)New

Which will go into commercial service first: Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket and Blue Moon lunar lander, or the Lego toy versions?

The answer will depend not only on how much progress Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture makes on the real things, but on how many people support the Lego Ideas project as well.

The 2,670-piece set would include a 1:110 scale version of the two-stage New Glenn and the human-capable variant of the Blue Moon lander, plus extras including a launch tower, rovers and a satellite. The rocket would be about 40 inches high.

The whole assemblage is designed by Valerie Roche and Matthew Nolan, the team behind the 1,969-piece Saturn V Lego rocket (which is also built to 1:110 scale), plus proposed SpaceX Falcon/Dragon and SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy rocket sets.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin protests launch contract rules

New Glenn rocket
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s future New Glenn rocket, which is currently due to have its first flight in 2021. (Blue Origin Illustration)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is protesting the rules of the game for awarding future national security launch contracts, while continuing to play against SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Northrop Grumman.

All four companies have submitted bids in the second phase of an Air Force competition aimed at selecting vendors for launches in the 2022-2026 time frame.

In the first phase of the competition, the Air Force said it would set aside as much as $2.3 billion to support the development of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, ULA’s Vulcan rocket and Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket. All those rockets are scheduled to enter service in the 2021 time frame.

However, the Air Force said it would reduce the field to two companies next year. Moreover, SpaceX – which didn’t qualify for development funds in Phase 1 – is joining the field for Phase 2 with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, both of which are already flying.

In May, SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the federal government, complaining that it was unfairly left out of the Phase 1 awards and left at a disadvantage for Phase 2. Back then, the other three companies disputed SpaceX’s claims and supported the Air Force’s Phase 1 arrangement.

Today, it was Blue Origin’s turn to protest: The company said it filed a pre-award bid protest with the Government Accountability Office, claiming that it would be unfair for the Air Force to reduce the field to just two companies.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin breaks ground on Alabama factory

Blue Origin groundbreaking
United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno and Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith are front and center for a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of Blue Origin’s rocket engine factory in Huntsville, Ala. (City of Huntsville Photo via Twitter)

Civic leaders and space executives tossed shovels of dirt today to celebrate the groundbreaking for a $200 million rocket engine factory to be built in Alabama by Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

“It’s a great day here in Rocket City, and it will be that way for years to come,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith declared during the ceremony at Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Ala.

Smith told the assembled crowd, “Blue Origin is all in on Alabama.”

The 200,000-square-foot facility is to open in March 2020 and manufacture BE-4 rocket engines for Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket as well as for United Launch Alliance’s next-generation, semi-reusable Vulcan rocket. ULA’s rocket production facility is located nearby in Decatur, Ala.

Get the full story on GeekWire.