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Blue Origin gets set for launch with COVID-19 in mind

Update for 6:45 a.m. PT Sept. 25: Blue Origin called off the launch of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship for the second day in a row. “We are working to verify a fix on a technical issue and taking an extra look before we fly,” the company said today in a tweet.

The previous day’s postponement was due to a “potential issue with the power supply to the experiments,” Blue Origin tweeted at the time. Cloudy weather at the Texas launch site posed an additional snag, because the precision landing test required clear weather to gather usable data.

We’ll update this report when a new launch date is set.

Previously: After a nine-month gap, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning to send its New Shepard suborbital spaceship on an uncrewed flight to space and back to test a precision landing system for NASA.

And that’s not the only new experiment for Blue Origin’s five-year-old New Shepard flight test program: This 13th test flight will be the first to be flown since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and the first to include extra COVID-19 safety measures.

“Safety is our highest priority,” Blue Origin said in an emailed statement. “We always take the time to get it right to ensure our vehicle is ironclad and the test environment is safe for launch operations. All mission crew supporting this launch are exercising strict social distancing and safety measures to mitigate COVID-19 risks to personnel, customers and surrounding communities.”

Liftoff will take place at Blue Origin’s suborbital spaceport in West Texas. The countdown, launch and roughly 10-minute flight will be streamed via BlueOrigin.com starting at T-minus-30 minutes. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is due to provide a special update during the webcast.

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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 makes plans for astronauts to go suborbital

NASA says it’ll formulate a plan to assess the safety of suborbital spacecraft — such as Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship or Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane — so that astronauts, researchers and other space agency personnel can be cleared for takeoff.

Today’s announcement, and the release of an official request for information, follows through on hints about the plan that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine dropped last week.

The effort will be spearheaded by a suborbital crew office within NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been overseeing the development of SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft for orbital trips to and from the International Space Station.

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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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Suborbital spacefliers will get pinned

Beth Moses gets pinned
Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut trainer, Beth Moses, gets her suborbital spaceflier pin from Michael Lopez-Alegria of the Association of Space Explorers. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Will the customers who fly on the suborbital spaceships operated by British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin get astronaut wings? That’s not in the cards, because those wings are typically reserved for flight crews. But at least they’ll get a lapel pin to mark their achievement.

The pin, created by the Association of Space Explorers, made its debut today on the lapel of Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic. She was pinned here at the International Astronautical Congress by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, the association’s president.

Moses already has her commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration, by virtue of her trip beyond the 50-mile mark in February as a crew member aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket plane. But she’s glad to have the pin as well.

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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 scores big in suborbital science

Blue Origin touchdown
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster heads for a touchdown after a test flight in December. (Blue Origin Photo)

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 15 promising space technologies for testing on suborbital flights, and almost half of them are set to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship.

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture, headquartered in Kent, Wash., started flying science payloads to the edge of space and back more than two years ago. This week’s NASA announcement solidifies Blue Origin’s status as a leader in suborbital space science missions.

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Virgin Galactic strikes deal to fly Italian scientist

SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity glides through a test flight. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

Virgin Galactic and the Italian Space Agency say they’ve signed a letter of intent to send an Italian payload specialist and scientific experiments on a suborbital space mission in 2019.

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