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Uncrewed Blue Origin flight cut short by anomaly

A booster misfire caused an early end today for an uncrewed suborbital space mission launched by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

It was the first Blue Origin mission to fall short of its goal since the first flight of the company’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship in 2015. Blue Origin didn’t immediately say what caused today’s anomaly. The Federal Aviation Administration said it would oversee an investigation into the mishap and would eventually have to sign off on Blue Origin’s return to flight.

No people were aboard the spacecraft. Instead, this mission was dedicated to scientific payloads and STEM education. The New Shepard spaceship carried 36 payloads, half of which were funded by NASA, plus tens of thousands of postcards that were sent in by students and flown courtesy of Blue Origin’s educational foundation. the Club for the Future.

This was the first dedicated payload launch since August 2021, coming amid a string of six crewed suborbital flights that saw 31 customers and special guests (including Bezos himself) go to space and back.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Husband and wife score a first on Blue Origin space trip

Say hello to the final frontier’s latest power couple: Marc and Sharon Hagle, who became the first husband-and-wife team to fly on a commercial spaceship today during a suborbital trip provided by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

The Hagles and four other spacefliers blasted off from Launch Site One in Texas aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship at 8:58 a.m. CT (6:58 a.m. PT) after a series of holds. There was no immediate word about the reason for the holds.

The flight profile for today’s mission — which is known as NS-20 because it was the 20th flight for the company’s reusable New Shepard launch system — followed the precedent set by three previous crewed flights: The hydrogen-fueled booster lofted the crew capsule to an unofficial altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers), giving the sextet a few minutes of weightlessness and an astronaut’s-eye view of a curving Earth beneath the black sky of space.

After stage separation, the autonomously controlled booster touched down on a landing pad, not far from the launch pad, while the crew capsule floated down to make a parachute-aided landing amid the West Texas rangeland. The flight took a little more than 10 minutes from the booster’s launch to the capsule’s landing.

Cries of “Woo-Hoo” could be heard from the crew over the capsule’s communication channel just after touchdown. Sharon Hagle gave a fist pump — and gave a hug and a kiss to her husband — as the couple emerged from the capsule.

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Are space trips trending toward becoming routine?

When Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture sends its next crew on a suborbital ride to space, as early as March 31, there won’t be any TV celebrities on board. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

“I’m personally seeing more and more people I know flying on each flight … and that’s more exciting to me than celebrity fliers,” Laura Seward Forczyk, the owner of the Atlanta-based space consulting firm Astralytical, told GeekWire in an email. “People in my network flying makes it feel much closer and more accessible.”

Folks who aren’t space consultants, or space geeks, might be hard-pressed to name a single member of the sextet — although they’d probably remember that “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson gave up his seat due to a scheduling conflict.

To fill that seat, Blue Origin chose its own Gary Lai. He’s the chief architect for the New Shepard suborbital spaceship that’s due to take off from the company’s Launch Site One amid the rangeland of West Texas. Assuming all systems are go, launch coverage via Blue Origin’s website and YouTube is set to begin at 7:20 a.m. CT (5:20 a.m. PT), with liftoff expected around 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT).

This mission, known as NS-20, marks the 20th outing for Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard launch system and the fourth crewed flight.

Headliners for the three previous trips included Jeff Bezos and aviation pioneer Wally Funk for last July’s debut; Star Trek captain William Shatner for October’s sequel; and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of pioneer NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, plus morning-show anchor Michael Strahan for December’s three-peat.

On the NS-20 mission, Lai will be joined by Marc and Sharon Hagle, the first married couple to fly in space together since 1992; George Nield, a former Federal Aviation Administration official who was involved in regulating commercial spaceflight; Jim Kitchen, a teacher and entrepreneur from North Carolina; and Marty Allen, an angel investor and former CEO of Party America.

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Blue Origin’s next space crew waits out the weather

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has rescheduled its next crewed suborbital space mission for March 31, due to concerns about the weather.

In a mission update, Blue Origin said “forecasted high winds during launch and recovery” forced a postponement of the liftoff from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. The National Weather Service said winds could reach sustained levels of 35 to 45 mph on March 29, with gusts up to 60 mph.

Six spacefliers — including the first married couple to go into space together in 30 years — have signed on for Blue Origin’s fourth crewed suborbital flight.

“The team has completed Flight Readiness Review and confirmed the vehicle has met all the mission requirement for flight,” Blue Origin said. “Astronauts are completing their training, and weather remains as the only gating factor.”

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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.

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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.

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NASA gives a lift to 57 student experiments

NASA has chosen 57 winning teams — including a team from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.— to receive funding to build and fly experiments focusing on subjects ranging from lunar dust mitigation to inkjet printing in zero gravity.

Interlake’s team will focus on a more down-to-Earth scientific question: how pollution levels are correlated with altitude.

The prizes were awarded through NASA’s first-ever TechRise Student Challenge, which aims to give students in grades 6 through 12 an opportunity for real-world experience in designing and executing autonomously operated experiments. The program, administered by Future Engineers, attracted entries from nearly 600 teams representing 5,000 students nationwide.

“At NASA, we educate and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today in a news release. “The TechRise Student Challenge is an excellent way for students to get hands-on experience designing, building, and launching experiments on suborbital vehicles. … I can’t wait to see these incredible experiments come to life.”