Categories
GeekWire

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.

Categories
GeekWire

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.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA lays out its plan for moon rocket’s first launch

If all goes according to plan, NASA could launch its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket on its first flight around the moon by as early as Aug. 29.

That’s a big “if,” however: Workers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida still have to finish fixing and testing the rocket’s systems, including components that didn’t get fully checked out during last month’s launch rehearsal.

Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, said it’ll be tricky to finish up the final test while observing all the launch constraints currently in place. “We do have some challenges right now as we complete that test and all our final closeout work, particularly in the core stage intertank, to get to a point where we’re ready to roll out,” he said today.

Today’s announcement came on an auspicious day: the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The schedule calls for the 322-foot-tall, 3.5 million-pound rocket to roll out from the space center’s Vehicle Assembly Building on Aug. 18. That would set the stage for potential launch attempts on Aug. 29, Sept. 2 and Sept. 5. Liftoff would mark the start of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight that’s meant to blaze a trail for astronauts to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2025.

Categories
GeekWire

Microsoft strengthens ties with final frontier pioneers

Microsoft doesn’t build rockets. It doesn’t build satellites, and it doesn’t have a launch pad. So what does Microsoft’s Azure Space business unit do?

“Azure Space is about bringing cloud computing and space technologies together with a partner ecosystem,” Stephen Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, told me.

From the beginning, partnerships have been “a foundational part of our approach to space,” Kitay said. So, two years after launching its space-centric cloud computing service, Microsoft is taking a new step to deepen those partnerships by establishing the Azure Space Partner Community.

Categories
GeekWire

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!”

Categories
GeekWire

Microbes could blaze a trail for farmers on Mars

An experiment that’s on its way to the International Space Station focuses on a subject that’s as common as dirt, but could be the key to growing crops in space.

The NASA-funded experiment — known as Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space, or DynaMoS — is being conducted by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. DynaMoS makes use soil and bacteria that were collected at a Washington State University field site in Prosser, Wash.

“Soil microbes are the hidden players of the life support system on planet Earth,” PNNL chief scientist Janet Jansson, the principal investigator for the DynaMoS experiment, explained during a pre-launch news briefing. The bacteria work to break down organic matter and make nutrients available for growing plants.

Space missions could extend the microbes’ reach beyond our home planet. “Soil microbes can help to make conditions on the lunar surface and Mars more favorable for plant growth,” Jansson said. “They can also be used to help grow crops on space stations and during long-term spaceflight.”

Categories
GeekWire

Feast your eyes on Webb Telescope’s space smorgasbord

A day after NASA showed how far the James Webb Space Telescope could dive into the cosmic frontier, scientists released additional pictures demonstrating the observatory’s scientific breadth.

Today’s data release highlighted the $10 billion telescope’s ability to analyze planetary atmospheres and record scenes of stellar birth and death in unprecedented detail.

The infrared images also demonstrated that the Webb Space Telescope’s 21-foot-wide mirror is ready to provide sharp pictures from the very start. That comes in contrast to the Hubble Space Telescope’s debut in 1990, when the initial images were marred by a flaw in its 7.8-foot-wide mirror.

“This telescope is working fantastically well,” Mark McCaughrean, the European Space Agency’s senior adviser for science and exploration, said today during NASA’s Webb webcast. That raises hopes that the James Webb Space Telescope, also known as JWST, will deliver on its promise to revolutionize the study of phenomena ranging from the origins of the universe to the habitability of alien planets.

Categories
GeekWire

Virgin Galactic teams up with Boeing for motherships

Virgin Galactic says it will partner with Aurora Flight Sciences, a Virginia-based Boeing subsidiary, to design and build next-generation motherships for its suborbital rocket planes.

The motherships will serve as flying launch pads for Virgin Galactic’s next-gen, Delta-class spacecraft, just as a carrier airplane called White Knight Two or VMS Eve has served for the company’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity rocket plane.

The system’s design is an upgraded version of the SpaceShipOne system that was funded almost two decades ago by Paul Allen, the late Microsoft co-founder, and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.

VSS Unity and VMS Eve have been undergoing test flights for years, and commercial suborbital space missions are scheduled to begin next year at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Hundreds of customers have reserved spots on future flights.

The next-generation mothership and rocket plane are due to start revenue-generating missions in 2025. The partnership announced today will cover the production of two motherships.

Categories
Cosmic Space

Robotic probe begins monthslong voyage to the moon

A robotic probe that’s meant to blaze a trail for astronauts has begun a slow and steady trek to the moon, thanks to a launch from New Zealand on a commercial rocket.

NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, also known as Capstone, lifted off from Rocket Lab’s launch pad on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula atop an Electron rocket at 2:55 a.m. PT (9:55 p.m. local time) today.

Because Rocket Lab’s Electron has far less oomph than, say, a Saturn V or Space Launch System rocket, the microwave oven-sized spacecraft will be sent along a leisurely, looping route that takes advantage of the gravitational pulls of the moon, the sun and Earth.

Categories
Universe Today

No more rehearsals for NASA’s SLS moon rocket

NASA says it’s finished with having to do full-scale dress rehearsals for the first liftoff of its moon-bound Space Launch System rocket. But it’s not finished with having to make fixes.

“At this point we’ve determined that we’ve successfully completed the evaluations and the work that we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Thomas Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development, told reporters today.

NASA’s assessment came after a dress rehearsal that reached its climax on June 20 with the loading of the 322-foot-tall rocket’s supercooled propellant tanks. The rehearsal, which followed some less-than-fully-successful trial runs in April, marked a milestone for launch preparations because it was the first time that the team at Kennedy Space Center in Florida had fully loaded all of the tanks and proceeded into the terminal launch countdown.