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Blue Origin says it’ll ‘soon’ test lunar landing tech

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong famously had to dodge a boulder-strewn crater just seconds before the first moon landing in 1969 — but for future lunar touchdowns, NASA expects robotic eyes to see such missions to safe landings.

And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is helping to make it so.

Today NASA talked up a precision landing system known as SPLICE (which stands for Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution). The system makes use of an onboard camera, laser sensors and computerized firepower to identify and avoid hazards such as craters and boulders.

NASA says three of SPLICE’s four main subsystems — the terrain relative navigation system, a navigation Doppler lidar system and the descent and landing computer — will be tested during an upcoming flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. The fourth component, a hazard detection lidar system, still has to go through ground testing.

In a tweet, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said technologies such as SPLICE “can provide spacecraft with the ‘eyes’ and analytical capability” for making safe landings. Blue Origin answered with a tweet of its own:

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These paintings will get a finishing touch in space

Uplift Aerospace and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket venture plan to put paintings where virtually no art has gone before: on the side of a rocket ship.

The “canvases” for these works are exterior panels that will be mounted on Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard spaceship, sent to the space frontier during an uncrewed test flight, then returned to Earth for delivery to the paintings’ purchasers.

Two Utah artists known for their realist and surrealist paintings — Jeff Hein and Mark R. Pugh — will come up with creations that are meant to weather the aerodynamically challenging ascent and descent through the atmosphere. Uplift Aerospace has conducted tests to ensure that the paint’s adhesion, integrity and relative coloration will endure the rigors of space travel. But the tests also suggest that the trip will alter the art. And that’s OK.

“The Mona Lisa would not move today’s viewer quite so poignantly without the telltale signs of its now centuries-old story and its emergence from the brush of a Renaissance master,” Dakota Bradshaw, a museum specialist who’s associated with the project, said in a news release. “Journey and story will also leave a unique and indelible mark on Uplift Aerospace’s first artwork to return from space travel.”

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NASA gets set to put astronauts on suborbital flights

Beth Moses
Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut trainer, Beth Moses, exults over the view out the window of the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane during a suborbital spaceflight in February 2019. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signaled today that astronauts would soon be cleared to take suborbital spaceflights aboard the commercial rocket ships being tested by Virgin Galactic and by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

“NASA is developing the process to fly astronauts on commercial suborbital spacecraft,” Bridenstine said in a tweet. “Whether it’s suborbital, orbital or deep space, NASA will utilize our nation’s innovative commercial capabilities.”

Bridenstine said the details will be laid out in a request for information to be released next week.

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Blue Origin’s plans spark debate amid outbreak

Blue Origin New Shepard
Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship sits on its West Texas launch pad in preparation for a launch in 2018. (Blue Origin Photo)

Discussions about future launch plans for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture have reportedly generated internal acrimony due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak — and that, in turn, has generated reassurances about safety.

The acrimony is laid out in a report from The Verge, based on accounts from unnamed employees as well as an audio recording of a staff meeting at the company’s headquarters in Kent, Wash.

Employees reportedly worried that plans for a test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceflight could put them at risk, because the operation would involve traveling to the company’s West Texas launch facility.

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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.

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Blue Origin puts postcards and art on a space ride

Blue Origin New Shepard launch
A drone’s-eye view shows Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship blasting off from its West Texas launch pad. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

Thousands of postcards, an array of science experiments and a couple of art projects took a suborbital ride to space today on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship, during a test flight aimed at blazing a trail for space travelers.

Today’s uncrewed flight was the 12th test mission for the New Shepard program, which is just one of the space initiatives being pursued by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture. It’s been seven months since the previous test flight in May.

Liftoff from Blue Origin’s suborbital launch facility in West Texas came one day after weather concerns forced a postponement. Even today, the launch team had to wait for heavy fog to clear before sending up the 60-foot-tall reusable spacecraft at 11:53 a.m. CT (9:53 a.m. PT).

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Blue Origin counts down to suborbital test flight

Blue Origin landing
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster lands itself at the end of a test flight in July 2018. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is counting down to today’s uncrewed flight test of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship, with a cargo manifest that should warm kids’ hearts for the holidays.

The company plans to fly thousands of postcards that have been gathered through its educational program, known as the Club for the Future. It’ll also send up two student-built art projects inspired by OK Go’s geeky music videos.

This will be the 12th New Shepard test mission, and it will mark the flight of Blue Origin’s 100th commercial payload to space and back.

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NASA picks 25 space technologies for testing

Suborbital rocket ships
Three of the vehicles to be used for testing space technologies are Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship and Masten Space Systems’ lander vehicle. (Virgin Galactic / Blue Origin / Masten via NASA)

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 25 promising space technologies for testing aboard aircraft, high-altitude balloons and suborbital rocket ships — including Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft.

Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and headquartered in Kent, Wash., will be involved in testing 11 of the technologies. The company has been providing flights for suborbital space experiments since 2016 at its West Texas spaceport.

The latest projects were selected as part of NASA’s Tech Flights solicitation. Awardees typically receive a grant or enter into a cost-sharing agreement through which they can select a commercial flight provider that meets the requirements for their payload.

“With vibrant and growing interest in exploration and commercial space across the country, our goal with these selections is to support innovators from industry and academia who are using rapid and affordable commercial opportunities to test their technologies in space,” Christopher Baker, program executive for Flight Opportunities at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release.

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Blue Origin CEO says space trips won’t be cheap

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith shows a video of a BE-4 rocket engine firing during the Aerospace Futures Alliance Summit in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has always shied away from saying how much it will cost to fly to the edge of the final frontier on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

But today, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith hinted at a ballpark figure.

“It’s going to not be cheap,” Smith said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference.

Although he stressed that the price for passengers hasn’t yet been published, he indicated that Blue Origin now has a price range in mind.

“Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space.

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Blue Origin might delay flying people until 2020

Blue Origin capsule
A mockup of the crew capsule for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship is laid out at the Aria Resort Hotel in Las Vegas for the re:MARS conference in June. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is laying plans for two more uncrewed tests of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship, but may have to delay its plans to put people on board until next year, CNBC reported.

The potential for shifting the start of test flights with people came up on Sept. 24 when Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith met with reporters in Washington, D.C.

Blue Origin, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., has filed plans with the Federal Communications Commission for at least two more New Shepard test flights from its test and launch facility in West Texas. These would be the 12th and 13th flights of the New Shepard test program.

On Sept. 24, Blue Origin sought reauthorization of the next test flight for a six-month period running from Nov. 1 to next May. The existing authorization is set to expire on Dec. 1, which suggests that the company wants to reserve more time to prepare for the test.

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