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Blue Origin Commercial Space Flight

Mission Status    Launch    Flight test program    References


Blue Origin, LLC is an American privately funded aerospace manufacturer and suborbital spaceflight services company headquartered in Kent, Washington. Founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, the company is led by CEO Bob Smith and aims to make access to space cheaper and more reliable through reusable launch vehicles. 1)

Blue Origin is employing an incremental approach from suborbital to orbital flight, with each developmental step building on its prior work. The company motto is Gradatim Ferociter, Latin for "Step by Step, Ferociously".

Blue Origin is developing a variety of technologies, with a focus on rocket-powered vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles for access to suborbital and orbital space. The company's name refers to the blue planet, Earth, as the point of origin.

Initially focused on suborbital spaceflight, the company has designed, built and flown multiple testbeds of its New Shepard vehicle at its facilities in Culberson County, Texas. Developmental test flights of the New Shepard, named after the first American in space Alan Shepard, began in April 2015, and flight testing is ongoing. Blue Origin has moved the date for first passengers back several times, with one recent planned timeframe being 2019 as of September 2018. In the event, it has not yet begun commercial passenger flights, nor announced a firm date for when they would begin. On nearly every one of the test flights since 2015, the uncrewed vehicle has reached a test altitude of more than 100 kilometers and achieved a top speed of more than Mach 3 (3,675 km/h), reaching space above the Karman line, with both the space capsule and its rocket booster successfully soft landing.

Blue Origin moved into the orbital spaceflight technology business in 2014, initially as a rocket engine supplier for others via a contractual agreement to build a new large rocket engine, the BE-4, for major US launch system operator United Launch Alliance (ULA). By 2015, Blue Origin had announced plans to also manufacture and fly its own orbital launch vehicle, known as the New Glenn, from the Florida Space Coast. BE-4 had been expected to complete engine qualification testing by late 2018, but the test program continued into 2019.

In May 2019, Jeff Bezos unveiled Blue Origin's vision for space and also plans for a moon lander known as "Blue Moon", set to be ready by 2024. On 30 April 2020, Blue Origin's National Team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper, was awarded $579 million to develop an integrated human landing system as part of NASA's Artemis program to return humans to the Moon.

Figure 1: February 2, 2019: Blue Origin's mission: We are focused on developing infrastructure for the creation of human spaceflight capabilities. If we can build a road to space with our reusable launch vehicles, and lower the cost of access - we can enable a future of growth. We are building a road so your children can build the future (video credit: Blue Origin)

Mission and development status

• June 28, 2022: U.S. Space Force acquisition executive Frank Calvelli this week will visit United Launch Alliance’s factory in Decatur, Alabama, and get an update on the company’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, a vehicle that the U.S. military has invested in and expects to use to launch national security satellites. 2)

- Calvelli, who has been on the job for less than two months, told reporters at the Pentagon June 28 that he is aware of the delays in the development of Vulcan’s main engine, Blue Origin’s BE-4, and that is why he decided to put ULA and Blue Origin on this travel schedule sooner rather than later.

- “One of the first industry visits I want to make is down there to make sure they understand the importance of hitting their milestones with that engine delivery as well as with the launch,” Calvelli said.


Figure 2: Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines for ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle sit at the build stand (image credit: @ToryBruno)

- Vulcan is years behind schedule due to delays in the development and testing of the BE-4 engine that powers the vehicle’s first stage. ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno has said the two flight engines needed for Vulcan’s first flight will be delivered this summer and Vulcan should be ready to fly before the end of the year.

- Calvelli said he expects Vulcan’s first launch in December. “That’s what I’ve been told.”

- ULA needs to start flying Vulcan and complete two commercial orbital missions successfully in order to get certified to launch U.S. military and intelligence satellites under the National Security Space Launch program. ULA is under contract, along with SpaceX, to launch as many as 35 missions over the next five years.

- Having Vulcan certified as soon as possible is critical for the Defense Department. ULA currently launches NSSL missions with its workhorse Atlas 5 rocket but DoD cannot buy any Atlas 5 launches beyond 2022 due to a congressional ban on the use of Russian rocket engines. The Atlas 5 uses the Russian-built RD-180s engines. ULA said it has sold all its remaining Atlas 5’s and just won a big contract from Amazon to launch the Kuiper broadband constellation so it’s imperative for the company to start transitioning to Vulcan and fly a domestically produced engine.

- Calvelli said he will be briefed on the status of Vulcan during his planned visit June 30. “I’ve never gotten a good deep dive on just what Vulcan is all about and what the BE-4 is all about,” he said. “I’m going down there as one of my first industry visits to make sure they know it’s really critical that they launch this year in December like they committed to, that they get those engines delivered,” he added. “So I’m going there as education to learn, and to make sure that both Blue Origin and ULA know how critical this is.”

- At this point Calvelli said he has no specific concerns about the program but believes it’s important enough to merit a visit. “I just want them to recognize that there’s somebody new in town, and that this is really important to me.”

• June 4, 2022: Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle performed its fifth crewed suborbital flight June 4, carrying six people including the first Mexican-born woman to go to space and the company’s first repeat customer. 3)

- New Shepard lifted off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 9:25 a.m. EDT. The crew capsule, with six people on board, landed 10 minutes after liftoff after reaching a peak altitude of about 107 kilometers. The vehicle’s booster made a propulsive landing nearly three minutes earlier.

- The six people on board included Blue Origin’s first repeat customer, Evan Dick, who flew on the NS-19 mission in December 2021. Another, Katya Echazarreta, is a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and the first Mexican-born woman to go to space. She was selected for the flight by Space for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that offers flights to space for those who cannot afford them on their own.


Figure 3: The New Shepard crew capsule touches down in the West Texas desert at the end of the NS-21 mission that launched June 4 (image credit: Blue Origin webcast)

- The six people on board included Blue Origin’s first repeat customer, Evan Dick, who flew on the NS-19 mission in December 2021. Another, Katya Echazarreta, is a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and the first Mexican-born woman to go so space. She was selected for the flight by Space for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that offers flights to space for those who cannot afford them on their own.

- Other on the flight include pilot Hamish Harding; Brazilian engineer Victor Correa Hespanha, who is only the second Brazilian to go to space; businessman and adventurer Jaison Robinson; and Victor Vescovo, an explorer who has summited some of the world’s highest mountains and dived to the deepest point in the ocean, Challenger Deep.

- In a post-flight media briefing, Dick said his second trip on New Shepard was “maybe a little bit less exciting than the first time, but because of that, I was able to focus a little bit more on the beauty” of seeing the Earth from above.

- “I’ve been dreaming about going to space my entire life,” said Echazarreta. “Nobody can truly imagine it until they experience it.”

- The NS-21 mission was originally scheduled for launch May 20. However, two days before the launch the company postponed it because an unspecified backup system on the vehicle “was not meeting our expectations for performance.” Blue Origin did not provide further details about the problem or how it resolved it.

- The flight was the fifth time New Shepard carried people, and the second flight of 2022. In February, Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said he expected his company this year to “easily double” the 14 people it took to space in 2021 on three New Shepard flights. He declined to say how many New Shepard flights, including both crewed and payload-only ones, the company projected launching this year.

Crypto and spaceflight

- One of the crew members, Hespanha, flew thanks to an organization called the Crypto Space Agency (CSA). It sold digital collectibles called non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and picked one of the purchasers at random for a seat on the flight.

- One of the founders of the CSA, Joshua Skurla, said in an interview that he and co-founder Sam Hutchison established the organization to tap into interest in both space and “Web3” technologies like cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. “This is a disruptive moment and there were going to be some really interesting ways to find a convergence, or help drive a convergence, between space and Web3,” he said.

- That convergence includes participation in human spaceflight. “We were excited about the idea of offering a flight to someone who had not necessarily the means to be able to pay for this flight on their own accord but was absolutely fascinated by space and wanted to participate,” he said.

- Skurla said the CSA purchased the seat in advance, then sold the NFTs on a “compressed” schedule for the flight. “Availability for seats is not incredibly high, so you have to work around the rocket schedule,” he said. While the organization is offering up to 5,555 NFTs, he said it sold “less than 300” when it picked Hespanha to go on NS-21, and about 400 as of the flight.

- He acknowledged that the sale of the NFTs did not cover the cost of the ticket. The CSA sells the NFTs using the Ethereum, or ETH, currency, with an NFT costing 0.25 ETH, or about $450 at the current value of Ethereum.

- Ethereum was significantly more valuable in late April when the CSA started selling NFTs, part of an overall sharp decline in the value of cryptocurrencies. That would appear to impair the CSA’s ability to fund later flights or other projects, but Skurla said he was not concerned. “We’re facing a slightly different market now than when we set the NFTs out for sale,” he said. “It’s a great time for us to be focused on building our core mission.”

- While it looks like a high-tech raffle, he said the sales of the NFT and the selection of one person to fly on New Shepard is part of an effort to build a broader community. “We’re providing a platform for everyone to come together around the three tenets of the CSA,” he said, which include human spaceflight as well as support for planetary defense and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

- Skurla said CSA had identified opportunities to support both planetary defense and SETI, but did not disclose them. NASA currently spends $150 million per year on planetary defense activities, while billionaire Yuri Milner pledged $100 million over 10 years for a SETI effort called Breakthrough Listen.

- He argued that even if CSA captures only a tiny fraction of the overall crypto market, it could still raise millions of dollars to spend on spaceflight, planetary defense and SETI. “It is realistic to generate those types of numbers, and if we aspire to be a meaningful player in this space, then yes, we do aspire to have that type of resources at our disposal.”

- CSA is not the only crypto organization planning to fly on New Shepard. Blue Origin stated in an April 25 tweet that MoonDAO, another organization that is selling NFTs, “has purchased seats on an upcoming New Shepard flight.” Neither Blue Origin nor MoonDAO stated when those flights would take place.

- In December, Blue Origin announced that Justin Lin, a Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur, had placed the winning bid for a seat on the first crewed New Shepard flight but, being unable to go, instead is buying a dedicated New Shepard flight in the fourth quarter of 2022. Lin said he would select five “space warriors” to accompany him on the flight, but since the announcement he has provided no major updates on the selection process or other plans for the mission.

• March 31, 2022: Blue Origin launched its New Shepard suborbital vehicle on its first flight of the year March 31, carrying six people on a brief trip to space and back. 4)

- The vehicle lifted off from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 9:59 a.m. EST. The capsule landed under parachutes about 10 minutes later after reaching a peak altitude of approximately 107 kilometers. The booster landed on a nearby pad three minute earlier.

- The launch was delayed nearly an hour by several countdown holds, including one that lasted more than 45 minutes. Blue Origin didn’t disclose the reason for the extended hold other than it needed the time to complete safety checks.

- The flight was the fourth crewed mission of New Shepard and the second to carry six people. Five of the people are paying customers: Marty Allen, Sharon and Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen and George Nield. The sixth is Gary Lai, chief architect of the New Shepard system at Blue Origin. The six called themselves the “Roaring Twenties,” a reference to the NS-20 mission designation.


Figure 4: Blue Origin's New Shepard lifts off March 31 on the NS-20 suborbital missions (image credit: Blue Origin webcast)

- Allen, the Hagles and Kitchen all have business backgrounds, including founding, leading and investing in businesses from retail to real estate. Nield spent his career in the space industry, including a decade as associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses New Shepard and other commercial launch vehicles.

- The five were to be joined by Pete Davidson, the comedian best known for being on the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” He was announced with the other five March 14, when the mission was scheduled for launch March 23. But, three days after the announcement, Blue Origin said that Davidson would not be on the flight. Neither the company nor Davidson explained why he had dropped out of the mission.

- The company announced March 21 that Davidson would be replaced by Lai, who joined Blue Origin in 2004 as one of its first 20 employees and is now senior director and chief architect for the suborbital system. He has also worked on Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital launch vehicle, engine development programs and its Blue Moon lunar lander.

- The flight was the first for New Shepard since a Dec. 11 flight, the first to carry six people. Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said at an FAA commercial space transportation conference Feb. 18 that the company planned to increase its launch rate this year and “easily double” the number of people that fly to space but didn’t state how many launches the company plans for the year. The company flew 14 people on three crewed flights in 2021.

- During the company’s webcast of the NS-20 flight, one of the hosts said that Blue Origin “expects to at least triple” the number of people flown to space. That would mean at least 42 people, or seven flights of six people each.

• December 29.2021: Blue Origin has signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. military to explore the possibility of someday using its rockets to transport cargo and people around the world. 5)

- A cooperative research and development agreement known as a CRADA was signed Dec. 17 with Blue Origin, a U.S. Transportation Command spokesman said Dec. 29.

- U.S. TRANSCOM (U.S. Transportation Command) oversees global military logistics operations. The command last year signed similar agreements with SpaceX and with Exploration Architecture Corp. (XArc). Blue Origin is the third company to ink a CRADA for the rocket cargo program.

- Under CRADAs, companies agree to share information about their products and capabilities but the government does not commit to buying anything. U.S. TRANSCOM’s analysis of industry data will inform the newly created “rocket cargo” program led by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Space Force. The Air Force in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 is seeking $47.9 million to conduct studies and rocket cargo demonstrations.


Figure 5: Aerial view of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket factory at Cape Canaveral, Florida (image credit: Blue Origin)

- The rocket cargo project will use modeling and simulations to analyze the military utility, performance and cost of transporting loads on commercial rockets and air dropping cargo payloads.

- “Not every operation will call for logistics through space, but when we need to respond faster, or assure access in challenging environments, we recognize that space now offers a toolkit, not just a concept,” said Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, deputy commander of U.S. TRANSCOM.

- “We want our understanding of space transportation’s potential to keep pace with the technical and operational realities that are being built now,” he said.

- In March 2020, U.S. TRANSCOM signed a CRADA with SpaceX to investigate the use of using SpaceX’s commercial space transportation capabilities to expedite global delivery of DoD materiel and personnel. In April 2020, it signed a CRADA with XArc (Exploration Architecture Corporation) to advise the command on the conditions needed to utilize commercial spaceports.

- Blue Origin operates a suborbital New Shepard reusable launch vehicle for space tourism and is developing a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle called New Glenn with a reusable first stage. Reusable stages and capsules that deploy parachutes to land space tourists are among the technologies that would be needed to do point-to-point cargo deliveries.

- The company has yet to fly New Glenn and is projecting a late 2022 debut pending successful completion of the development of the BE-4 engines. Seven BE-4s will power Blue Glenn’s first stage.

• December 13, 2021: Executives of two launch companies insisted their vehicles will be ready for their inaugural flights in 2022 while a third acknowledged their new vehicle’s first flight will likely slip beyond the end of next year. 6)

- During a panel discussion at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Dec. 13, Jarrett Jones, senior vice president for the New Glenn launch vehicle program at Blue Origin, backed away from an earlier schedule that called for that launch in the fourth quarter of 2022.

- After losing a U.S. Space Force launch competition in 2020 to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin refocused its efforts to meet the needs of commercial customers, he said. “Yes, we have a target to launch, but we will launch when we’re ready and we are aligned with our customers.”

- The company is working on various qualification efforts, including tests of a payload fairing at NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio, formerly known as Plum Brook Station. The first stage is slated to complete qualification in early 2022, followed by the upper stage in the middle of the year. The company is building first flight hardware in parallel, which Jarrett acknowledged was a risk “but it’s a risk we’re betting on because of the design.”


Figure 6: A first launch of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket may slip past the end of 2022, a company official said Dec. 13 (image credit: Blue Origin)

- “My expectation is that qualification will be completed next year and that we will have a rocket in build, if not built, by the end of the year, ready for launch,” he said.

- A key factor in that schedule is the delivery of the seven BE-4 engines that power the first stage. “I’m pretty bullish on the BE-4 engines,” he said, citing good progress in recent testing. “The expectation is that we’ll get those towards the second half of 2022, and then we’re going to need three months for integration.”

- The BE-4 schedule is also a factor for ULA, whose Vulcan Centaur uses two BE-4 engines in its first stage. ULA had hoped to get the first flight engines before the end of this year, but Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of the company, said Dec. 3 that those engines would not arrive until after the first of the year.

- “The Blue team is making great progress and we do expect to receive those engines some time in the first quarter of this coming year,” said Mark Peller, vice president of major development at ULA. “That puts us on a good pace to get the integrated rocket down to the launch site and supporting an inaugural launch for Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander next year.”

- Peller appeared to deny a report, published by Ars Technica Dec. 13, that stated that the delivery of the engines had slipped to at least April 2022 and threatened to delay that first launch to 2023.

- Absolutely not 2023,” he said when asked if early 2023 was a likely date for the first launch. “We have a plan that will support a flight in mid-2022.”

- Arianespace is pressing ahead with plans for the first flight of the Ariane 6 in 2022. Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, said that launch was scheduled for the “second part” of 2022, but added it was too early to give a more specific launch date.

- The schedule for Ariane 6 is critical since the existing Ariane 5 is nearing retirement. Israël said that, after the Dec. 22 launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, there will be five more Ariane 5 launches left, which he predicted will go through the end of 2022 or early 2023. “There will be limited overlap between Ariane 6 and Ariane 5,” he said.

- Further delays in Ariane 6, though, could turn that limited overlap into a gap, but Israël was confident that would not happen. “There will be no delay in Ariane 6 because we are now in the very last mile leading to the launch,” he said, such as a hotfire test scheduled for early next year.

- However, that first launch, previously scheduled for the second quarter of 2022, has slipped to at least the third quarter, according to a European Space Agency schedule of projected highlights in 2022 released Dec. 7.

- That introduction of several new vehicles creates challenges for commercial customers, said Tiphaine Louradour, president of International Launch Services (ILS). “You have three flight-proven launch vehicles that are available” at the heavy end of the market today, she said: Falcon, Proton and Soyuz. All the remaining Atlas 5 and Ariane 5 launches have been sold, while Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is also transitioning from the H-2 to the new H3.

- That choice could be further reduced if geopolitical issues, such as responses to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, made Proton and Soyuz — marketed by ILS — inaccessible to Western customers, leaving them only the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. “If I was a commercial satellite operator, I’d be very concerned, and we are hearing those concerns,” she said.

• December 11, 2021: Blue Origin launched its third crewed New Shepard (NS) suborbital mission Dec. 11, carrying six people on a brief flight to the edge of space. 7)

- The vehicle lifted off on the NS-19 mission at 10:01 a.m. EST (15:01 UTC) from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas, after winds delayed the launch two days. The vehicle reached a peak altitude of approximately 107 kilometers before landing just over 10 minutes after liftoff.

- “We had a great flight today. This was our sixth flight in what has been a great year for the New Shepard program. We flew 14 astronauts to space, flew a NASA payload flight that tested lunar landing sensors and completed our certification test flights,” Bob Smith, chief executive of New Shepard, said in a statement. The company said it planned “several” New Shepard flights in 2022 carrying payloads and people.

- The flight was the first by New Shepard to carry six people, the vehicle’s intended capacity. The first two crewed flights, NS-16 in July and NS-18 in October, carried four each. The six will be eligible for Federal Aviation Administration astronaut wings, the last that will be awarded by the agency after it announced Dec. 10 it will retire the initiative at the end of the year.


Figure 7: The Blue Origin New Shepard capsule descends under parachutes near the end of the NS-19 flight Dec. 11 (image credit: Blue Origin webcast)

- Two of the six were guests of Blue Origin. Laura Shepard Churchley is the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American in space and after whom New Shepard is named. Michael Strahan is a former professional football player and currently a television host. He has been providing updates on his training for the flight for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

- The other four were customers, paying undisclosed sums to fly on the vehicle. Lane Bess is principal and founder of Bess Ventures and Advisory, a family fund investing in technology companies. He previously helped start two cybersecurity companies, Zscaler and Palo Alto Networks. He is the father of Cameron Bess, a content creator, who will also be on the flight. The two are the first parent-child combination to go to space together.

- Evan Dick is an investor and engineer who previously worked for D.E. Shaw — the same company as Jeff Bezos before he left to found — and Highbridge Capital Management. Dylan Taylor is chairman and chief executive of Voyager Space, which has acquired several space companies. He founded Space for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that raises money to sponsor flights to space for those who could not afford to go on their own.

- Taylor said that he would donate an amount to what he paid for the flight to other organizations, an initiative he called “buy one, give one” that he encouraged other private astronauts to adopt. Those organizations include Space for Humanity as well as AstroAccess, an organization addressing disability inclusion in space exploration; Edesia Nutrition, devoted to solving malnutrition; and the Brooke Owens and Patti Grace Smith Fellowships.

- “Commercial astronauts are predicted to spend several hundred million dollars in the next five years and if they were to all help support an initiative on Earth, their impact could create significant accessible and diversified space exploration opportunities and advancement for humanity here on Earth,” Taylor wrote in a blog post.

- The perception that commercial human spaceflight benefits only the wealthy led one member of Congress to propose a tax on such flights. Immediately after the first crewed New Shepard flight in July, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) announced his intent to introduce the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act, which would tax commercial human orbital and suborbital flights.

- “Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy. Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some,” he said in a July 20 release announcing his proposed bill.

- At the time, a spokesperson for Blumenauer said he was planning to introduce the bill in the “coming weeks” after consulting with experts about how it should be structured. As of Dec. 11, he had not introduced the bill, and his office did not respond to a request for comment about the bill’s status Dec. 10.


Figure 8: The crew of New Shepard NS-19. Pictured from left to right: Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess, Cameron Bess, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan, and Evan Dick (image credit: Blue Origin) 8)

• November 29, 2021: Virgin Galactic has selected the winner of a contest to fly on a future SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight while Blue Origin prepares for its first New Shepard launch with a full six-person crew. 9)

- Virgin Galactic announced Nov. 24 that Keisha Schahaff of Antigua won two seats in a contest the company conducted with charity fundraising platform Omaze and nonprofit Space for Humanity. Schahaff was one of 164,338 people who purchased raffle seats for the seats, raising $1.7 million for Space for Humanity’s Citizen Astronaut Program.

- “It was always a childhood dream for me to go into space,” she said in a YouTube video about winning the contest. “It’s a very big, very beautiful adventure, and just to have the opportunity to do it, why not? So that’s why I’m going into space.”

- Schahaff, a health and energy coach, will be the first of Virgin Galactic’s 700 current customers to be from the Caribbean. She said in the company announcement of the trip that she hopes to have her daughter, an astrophysics student, take the other seat.

- Virgin Galactic did not announce when Schahaff would fly. When the company announced the competition immediately after its July 11 flight that took company founder Richard Branson to space, it said that the winners would be on “an early Virgin Galactic commercial flight.” Those commercial flights, though, will not begin until at least late 2022 after the company completes an extended maintenance period of its vehicles, according to a schedule the company provided in a Nov. 8 earnings call.

- Virgin Galactic’s announcement came a day after Blue Origin revealed the six people who will fly on its next New Shepard mission, NS-19, scheduled for Dec. 9 from its Launch Site One facility in West Texas. That will be the third New Shepard flight with people on board, and the first carry a full complement of six people. The first two crewed flights carried four people each.

- Two of the six will be guests of Blue Origin. One, Laura Shepard Churchley, is the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space in 1961 and the namesake of the vehicle. The other, Michael Strahan, is a former professional football player and current television host.

- Strahan, who covered the first crewed New Shepard launch in July and interviewed Jeff Bezos minutes after that flight, said he was approached by the company about going on this flight. “Without hesitation I said yes,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he announced his flight. “I just wanted to be part of it. I was really enamored by the first flight I saw.”

- The other four are customers, each paying an unspecified amount for their seats. Dylan Taylor is chairman and chief executive of Voyager Space, which owns several space companies, and founder of Space for Humanity. Evan Dick is an investor and engineer who previously worked for D.E. Shaw and Highbridge Capital. Lane Bess is the founder of a family fund supporting technology companies and previously helped start two cybersecurity companies. He is also the father of Cameron Bess, a content creator who will also be on the flight. The Besses will be the first parent-child pair to fly to space together.

• October 20, 2021: Blue Origin could become the second U.S. rocket company to sign a cooperative agreement with the U.S. military to examine how space vehicles might be used to transport cargo around the world. 10)

- “We’re in conversations with U.S. Transportation Command,” Thomas Martin, Blue Origin’s director of national security programs, said Oct. 20 at the National Defense Transportation Association’s fall conference. - Martin spoke during a panel discussion on the role of space in military logistics.

- U.S. Transportation Command, which oversees global military logistics operations, last year signed a CRADA (Cooperative Research And Development Agreement) with SpaceX and with Exploration Architecture Corp. (XArc) to study what it would take to integrate space rockets into the military transportation network.

- Martin said Blue Origin formally responded to a request for information issued by Transportation Command but has yet to decide whether to move forward with a CRADA.


Figure 9: Rendering of a 'rocket cargo' vehicle set to launch and deliver supplies for the U.S. military (image credit: Air Force Research Laboratory)

- Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, deputy commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said the CRADAs with SpaceX and XArc were the result of conversations he had in 2018 with the former head of the command Gen. Stephen Lyons.

- Lyons had read about Elon Musk’s vision of establishing a permanent human presence on Mars, with SpaceX’s Starship rockets carrying people and massive loads of cargo to and from the red planet. Mewbourne said Lyons was intrigued by this concept not only for interplanetary lift but for terrestrial point to point logistics. “And that sort of just got the juices flowing and opened the door to where we are today,” he said.

- “We are hoping to find other partners that want to join us in a journey of discovery,” Mewbourne said.

- Under the CRADAs, information is shared but the government does not commit to buying anything. U.S. Transportation Command, as the user of mobility services, will inform the newly created “rocket cargo” program led by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Space Force. The Air Force in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 is seeking $47.9 million to conduct studies and rocket cargo demonstrations.

- Mewbourne said he could not predict if or when a demonstration will take place. “We have to go at the pace of industry,” he said. “What they’re doing is pioneering work.”

- SpaceX is moving forward with the development of Starship but the vehicle is not expected to fly until next year. Blue Origin’s heavy lift rocket New Glenn is at least a year away from its first orbital launch.

- The capabilities of the rockets in fact is the least of the concerns in this project, Mewbourne noted.

- There is no question that a rocket could travel from Los Angeles to Guam — a trip that takes 15 hours by plane — in 40 minutes, he said. But the issue is how rockets get integrated into the transportation and supply chain.

- “Space travel itself honestly might be the easier part,” he said. “But how do we connect this global transportation network that we have, with the launch and recovery of a spacecraft?”

- That is what ultimately will determine if rockets will be used at all. If the flight takes 40 minutes but it takes days to orchestrate operations on the front and back ends, the whole concept becomes superfluous, he said.

Challenges for the industry

- Martin said Blue Origin has been looking at the point-to-point space transportation market and there are still major questions to be answered.

- The military’s thinking is that rockets would provide a fast-response logistics capability to move cargo during emergencies. But the reality in the space industry is that “it takes us about two years from when the customer says they want to get something into space to when it actually launches. So we have a lot to learn from TRANSCOM.”

- Having reliable reusable rockets will be key to be able to perform this service, he said.

- With its suborbital New Shepard reusable launch vehicle created for space tourism, Blue Origin is “learning a lot about how you launch that thing quickly,” said Martin. “We’re directly applying what we’re learning to our New Glenn,” a much larger rocket with a reusable first stage. A long term goal is to make a reusable upper stage, he said.

- Reusable stages and capsules that deploy parachutes to land are among the technologies that might be needed to do point-to-point cargo deliveries, he said. Blue Origin’s lunar lander technology developed for NASA also could be relevant.

- “We’re testing sensors that are going to allow us to land on an unprepared lunar surface where there may be rocks, boulders. That looks a whole lot like landing in a disaster zone.”

- A video animation shown at the conference by Brig Gen John Olson, mobilization assistant to the chief of space operations of U.S. Space Force, showed a series of rockets packed with cargo pallets lifting off from a spaceport and landing in the middle of a disaster stricken area to deliver emergency relief supplies.

- To bring that vision to reality, the industry is going to have to figure out fundamental tasks such as how to encapsulate cargo, how it gets to the launch site, how a rocket or capsule lands in an austere area with no infrastructure, and how pallets are unloaded and distributed, Martin said. “We are not at the Star Trek point yet.”

- “There’s a lot we have to solve to make rockets anything like aircraft flying operations,” he said. “This is the work of decades and we’re taking those first baby steps.”

- Despite these challenges, Martin said he sees the U.S. military as a more attractive market for point-to-point space transportation than the commercial sector. “I think the government’s got a lot of ideas of how it could work from a from a military perspective.” There are not many use cases in the commercial sector, he added. “It is a difficult market but we’re starting to study it.”

- Sam Ximenes, founder and CEO of XArc, said the company is helping U.S. Transportation Command “understand the ground logistics” of using rockets for transportation.

- One concept, for example, involves the use of aerial drones to transfer cargo from large ships like Starship to the customers on the ground. XArc also is investigating the idea of a “rocket hospital” robotic module that autonomously deploys in a disaster area and is staffed by local medical personnel, said Ximenes.

- The deployable hospital module already is being used for airlift deployments, he said. “This can also be adapted to rocket cargo.”

• October 13, 2021: Blue Origin launched Star Trek actor William Shatner and three others into space on a brief suborbital flight Oct. 13, the second crewed flight of the company’s New Shepard vehicle. 11)

- New Shepard lifted off from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 10:49 a.m. EDT (14:49 UTC). The vehicle reached an estimated peak altitude of 107 kilometers before the crew capsule, RSS First Step, landed 10 minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff. The booster landed under rocket power about three minutes earlier.

- The vehicle carried four people, headlined by Shatner, best known for his role as James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series and later movies. At 90, Shatner is now the oldest person to fly to space, breaking the record set by 82-year-old Wally Funk on the first crewed New Shepard flight July 20.


Figure 10: Blue Origin’s New Shepard lifts off Oct. 13 on the NS-18 mission, the second flight of the vehicle to carry people (image credit: Blue Origin webcast)

- Shatner was exuberant after his flight, offering a long description of his experience to Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos during the company’s webcast. “I hope I never recover from this. I hope I maintain what I feel now,” he said. “Everybody in the world needs to do this.”

- Shatner is not paying for his seat, but two others are paying undisclosed amounts to be on the flight. Chris Boshuizen is a co-founder of Earth observation company Planet and a partner at investment firm DCVC. He became the third Australian to go to space. Glen de Vries is co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a clinical research company, and became vice chair of life sciences and healthcare at Dassault Systèmes when it acquired Medidata in 2019.

- The fourth person on the flight was Audrey Powers, vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin and chair of the board of directors of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. She played a lead role in getting New Shepard approved to fly people. She said in a Blue Origin video that she was selected by company founder Jeff Bezos and senior leadership “to represent Team Blue and fly as the fourth astronaut” on the mission.

- The launch was scheduled for Oct. 12, but the company postponed the launch a day because of winds. “The forecast two days ago told us this would a difficult day, both from the point of view of surface winds, which affect the personnel preparing the vehicle for launch, and the winds aloft,” said Nick Patrick, NS-18 lead flight director at Blue Origin and a former NASA astronaut, in a video the company released Oct. 12.

- He added the company pushed back the liftoff from its originally scheduled time of 9:30 a.m. EDT because the “tail end of today’s winds affect the rollout” early Oct. 13.

- The vehicle itself was ready for launch on the originally scheduled date. Patrick said the vehicle passed a flight readiness review on Oct. 10. “Everything is in good shape for launch,” he said.

- The flight is a bright spot for a company that has recently been mired in controversy. It protested NASA’s selection of SpaceX for a Human Landing System awards in April, and when the Government Accountability Office rejected that protest in July, it filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims. That has suspended work on the HLS program until Nov. 1 as the court takes up the case.

- The company more recently faced accusations of a hostile workplace environment, including sexual harassment, as well as lapses in safety. Twenty-one current and former employees wrote an essay laying out those issues, including concerns that work to increase the New Shepard flight rate “was seriously compromising flight safety.” The Federal Aviation Administration said it was reviewing those claims but did not comment further.

- “Safety has been baked into the design of New Shepard from day one,” said Jacki Cortese, senior manager of civil space government relations at Blue Origin, during the company’s webcast of the NS-18 launch. “It’s a robust vehicle designed with high margins. We’ve actually determined that the design can handle substantially more than what we see in flight.”

- She added that external reviews of the vehicle by people with “deep experience” in spaceflight programs. “Unanimously, this team determined that New Shepard met the highest standards for certification.”

- The flight was the fifth New Shepard flight this year, including three payload-only flights. That is the greatest number of flights of the suborbital vehicle the company has performed in a single year. Company executives said in July that they expected to perform two more crewed flights this year, of which this one was the first. The second, projected for December, may be the first to carry six people, the full crew complement of New Shepard.

• October 1, 2021: The Federal Aviation Administration says it is reviewing allegations about safety issues at Blue Origin raised in an explosive essay by a group of current and former employees. 12)

- In an essay published on the website Lioness Sept. 30, the group of 21 current and former employees, most of whom are anonymous, claimed that an effort by company leadership to increase the flight rate of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle “was seriously compromising flight safety.”

- “In the opinion of an engineer who has signed on to this essay, ‘Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far,’” it states. “Many of this essay’s authors say they would not fly on a Blue Origin vehicle.”

- An FAA spokesperson told SpaceNews that the agency “takes every safety allegation seriously, and the agency is reviewing the information.” The agency did not elaborate on the nature of the review or investigation, or if the agency was aware of any safety issues on previous New Shepard flights.

- The essay offered few specifics beyond concerns that the company was not giving enough resources to teams working on various vehicle systems. It noted that, in 2019, the group working on an unspecified New Shepard subsystem “included only a few engineers working long hours” and whose work “went far beyond what would be manageable for a team double the size.”

- The essay also warned of pressure from company leadership to increase the vehicle’s flight rates, with a goal of more than 40 launches a year. “Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety,” they wrote.

- New Shepard flew only three times in 2019 and once in 2020. Blue Origin has conducted four New Shepard missions so far in 2021, using two different vehicles, one designed for payload-only flights and one for flying people. Blue Origin made its first, and to date only, crewed flight July 20.

- The essay comes less than two weeks before the next New Shepard crewed flight, scheduled for Oct. 12 from the company’s West Texas launch site. Blue Origin announced Sept. 27 that Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet, and Glen de Vries, vice-chair of life sciences and health care at Dassault Systèmes, will be on the flight. The company has not disclosed the other two participants.

- The essay also warned of pressure from company leadership to increase the vehicle’s flight rates, with a goal of more than 40 launches a year. “Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety,” they wrote.

- The safety concerns are just one part of the essay, which alleges a toxic work environment at the company, particularly for women. “Numerous senior leaders have been known to be consistently inappropriate with women,” the essay states, describing “a particular brand of sexism” at Blue Origin.

- Company executives also enforced a “suppression of dissent” from employees, the essay claims. That ranged from limiting questions at company town halls to keeping lists of employees who are “troublemakers or agitators” and even forcing out critics. Those efforts, the group argues, impact safety.

- “Today, Blue Origin is selling seats on rockets, stating ‘safety is their top mission’ despite the fact that very few regulations are in place to ensure that is truly the case,” they wrote. “Internally, many of us did not see leadership invest in prioritizing sound systems engineering practices.”

- The essay’s publication was part of a coordinated media push that included an article in Fortune magazine, which had access to an advance copy, as well as an appearance on CBS Mornings by Alexandra Abrams, a former head of employee communications at Blue Origin and the only public signatory of the letter.

- “I would not trust a Blue Origin vehicle going to space,” she said in the CBS interview.

- In a brief statement, Blue Origin said it had “no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind” and that it “will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct.” It added that it fired Abrams after “repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations,” a claim she denies.

- “We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built,” Blue Origin added.

- After the publication of the essay, another former Blue Origin employee, Joseph Gruber, said he agreed with its claims about the work environment at the company. “Blue has a horrible culture and yes, there is sexism in the organization as I reported to HR on my exit interview,” he tweeted.

- However, he didn’t share the safety concerns expressed in the essay. “It’s not going to be 100% safe, and there is inherent risk, but I truly feel that it is a safe vehicle,” he wrote, noting he worked on its avionics. “I would fly on [New Shepard] today.”

• August 26, 2021: Blue Origin launched a New Shepard suborbital vehicle Aug. 25 on a mission carrying research and educational payloads as the company prepares for its next crewed flight. 13)

- New Shepard lifted off from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 10:31 a.m. EDT. The launch was delayed by nearly an hour because of two holds during the countdown, first for an unspecified vehicle issue and then a nearly half-hour hold for what the company called a “payload readiness issue.”


Figure 11: The New Shepard crew capsule descends under parachutes shortly after its booster landed during the NS-17 mission Aug. 25 in West Texas (image credit: Blue Origin webcast)

- The crew capsule reached a peak altitude of 105.9 km before landing under parachutes 10 minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff. The vehicle’s booster made a powered landing on a nearby pad a few minutes earlier.

- The launch was scheduled Aug. 25 but delayed one day. “We are working to verify a fix on a payload integration issue and taking an extra look before we fly,” a company spokesperson said Aug. 23, the day Blue Origin announced the slip.

- The mission carried 18 research payloads inside the capsule, 11 of which are supported by NASA through its Flight Opportunities program. An additional NASA experiment mounted on the vehicle’s exterior collected data during the powered landing of the booster to test a sensor and computer system designed for future lunar landers.

- The vehicle also carried paintings by Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo on the parachute covers of the capsule as part of an art project by Uplift Aerospace.

- This flight was the first for New Shepard since its inaugural crewed flight July 20, also from Launch Site One. That launch, using a different booster and capsule from this mission, sent company founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen to an altitude of more than 100 km before landing 10 minutes after liftoff.

- Company officials said during the launch webcast that the next crewed flight of New Shepard will take place “soon,” but didn’t offer a more specific schedule. At the July 20 flight, the company said it expected to perform two more crewed flights this year. The company has a backlog of nearly $100 million but has not disclosed the number of customers who have signed up for flights.

• August 24, 2021: While there won’t be humans on Blue Origin’s 17th New Shepard mission, the fully reusable launch vehicle will carry technologies from NASA, industry, and academia aboard. The agency’s Flight Opportunities program supports six payload flight tests, which are slated for lift off no earlier than Aug. 26 from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. 14)

- For some innovations, this is just one of several tests supported by NASA on different flight vehicles. Iterative flight testing helps quickly ready technologies that could eventually support deep space exploration.

- “This kind of iterative flight testing is exactly what Flight Opportunities is designed for,” said Christopher Baker, program executive within the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Leveraging a range of different vehicles to advance technologies quickly is important not only to achieving NASA’s mission goals but also to maximizing the impact of these innovations in space and here on Earth.”

Precision Landing Technologies for Safe Touchdown

- One of the demonstrations taking flight is a precision landing technology suite developed by NASA researchers under the Safe and Precise Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) project. SPLICE is part of STMD’s Game Changing Development program.


Figure 12: NASA’s SPLICE descent and landing computer (foreground) and navigation Doppler lidar engineering test unit (background) undergo preparations for a suborbital flight test (image credit: Blue Origin)

- The SPLICE navigation system consists of a high-performance computer, lasers, a camera, and other sensors. It is designed to help a lander determine its precise location and velocity as it travels toward the surface of a planetary body. Several SPLICE components flew aboard New Shepard in October 2020 as part of the Tipping Point contract with Blue Origin.

- Supplementing data from the first SPLICE flight test, the upcoming flight will further mature the NASA-developed technologies for future lunar demonstrations. In particular, SPLICE’s navigation Doppler lidar developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is slated for future flights on two commercial robotic lunar landers through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

Propellant Gauging Innovation

- The flight is also an important next step for principal investigator Dr. Kevin Crosby and his team from Carthage College. They’ll build on previous parabolic flight campaigns to advance a propellant mass gauging technology.

- Carthage researchers aim to increase the accuracy of measuring propellant levels in space – a mission-critical need, especially during dynamic events such as engine burns and in the latter stages of a mission. The flight will enable the team to evaluate new propellant gauging methods that support the mass measurement of fluid under varying pressures.

- “We’ve successfully proven that our technology is superior to the current state of the art in both lab tests and on parabolic flights facilitated by Flight Opportunities,” said Crosby. “On the upcoming New Shepard flight, we’re going to attempt to prove that we can achieve that same performance during a simulation of on-orbit refueling – and we are much more confident we will achieve our objectives because of our parabolic flight experience.”


Figure 13: This diagram illustrates Carthage College’s propellant mass gauging payload, which includes three propellant tanks, cameras, and an electronics deck (image credits: Carthage College)

Space-Based Trash Recycling Method

- Early-career researchers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will test spaceflight trash-to-gas conversion capabilities via the Orbital Syngas/Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR).

- OSCAR is designed to convert trash and metabolic waste into a blend of useful gases, including carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. Astronauts could vent the generated gas into space or use it as building blocks for products such as water, oxygen, or even spacecraft propellants. This recycling technology could reduce the volume and mass of trash on long-duration missions, minimize launch mass from Earth, and promote sustainable human space exploration.

- OSCAR’s first suborbital flight test gave the research team data about how microgravity affects the thermal processes that allow waste products to burn in the reactor. The upcoming rocket flight will provide additional microgravity data to help validate OSCAR’s conversion technologies.


Figure 14: Principal investigator Dr. Annie Meier and engineers Malay Shah and Jaime Toro assemble the flight hardware for NASA’s OSCAR trash-to-gas conversion system on Oct. 10, 2019, at Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility. (image credit: NASA)

Other Technologies Aboard

- Large-scale liquid acquisition device: SwRI (Southwest Research Institute) investigators will continue testing their device designed to leverage surface tension for more efficient cryogenic transfer operations.

- Exploring electrostatic regolith interactions: This University of Central Florida payload is designed to characterize regolith’s electrostatic dynamics and behavior for enhanced safety on lunar missions. Five variations of the tapered liquid acquisition device (LAD), which is designed to safely deliver liquid propellant to a rocket engine from fuel tanks, were aboard the rocket to evaluate their performance in microgravity.

- Suborbital biological imaging: Building on 20 years of microgravity plant research, University of Florida investigators are working to enable autonomous, high-resolution image data collection for a variety of biological payloads during transitions in gravity levels.

About Flight Opportunities

- The Flight Opportunities program is funded by STMD at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington and managed at NASA Armstrong. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

• August 19, 2021: NASA will stop work on a Human Landing System (HLS) award to SpaceX through the end of October as a federal court takes up a suit filed by Blue Origin protesting the contract. 15)

- The Court of Federal Claims issued a schedule Aug. 19 for a suit filed by Blue Origin protesting NASA’s HLS award to SpaceX. The schedule lays out deadlines for filings to be made by both Blue Origin and the federal government, the defendant in the case. Oral arguments in the suit are scheduled for Oct. 14.

- The schedule also included a “NASA Voluntary Stay of Performance” that expires Nov. 1. That appeared to indicate that NASA would stop work on the HLS contract less than three weeks after the Government Accountability Office denied Blue Origin’s protest, allowing work that had been halted since late April to proceed.

- “NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1. In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1,” the agency said in a statement to SpaceNews. “NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter.”

- In an interview with SpaceNews Aug. 19 before the release of the case schedule, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he expected some clarity on the schedule of the case, including any requirement for a stop-work order, in the next two weeks.

- He added, though, that the Justice Department, and not NASA, handles the case in federal court. “This is a matter that is out of our hands. It’s in the legal system and it’s being handled by the Department of Justice.”

- The effect of the suit on the overall Artemis program is “further delay,” he warned. “The judge could require, in essence, very laborious discovery.”

- Blue Origin filed the suit Aug. 13, two weeks after the GAO denied protests both it and Dynetics filed of the HLS “Option A” award made to SpaceX. The companies separately argued that NASA improperly evaluated their proposals as well as claiming that NASA should have revised or canceled the solicitation once it concluded it didn’t have the funding to make more than one award. The GAO rejected those arguments.

- “Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” the company said in an Aug. 16 statement. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”

- The suit adds further doubt that NASA can achieve the goal set by the previous administration of returning humans to the lunar surface by 2024. NASA’s Office of Inspector General said in an Aug. 10 report that the spacesuits needed for the Artemis 3 lunar landing mission won’t be ready before April 2025, but added the suits are among several factors that “preclude a 2024 landing.”

- Asked about the 2024 deadline, Nelson said he didn’t know if that was still possible, citing both the HLS lawsuit and the delays with the suit, as well as ongoing efforts to win more funding for the HLS program to support a second lander provider. “I don’t know the answer to your question,” he said.

• August 19, 2021: Blue Origin will conduct its next New Shepard suborbital mission Aug. 25 with a set of research payloads, but not people, on board on the vehicle’s first flight under a revised launch license. 16)

- Blue Origin said Aug. 18 that it’s scheduled the NS-17 mission from its West Texas test site, called Launch Site One, for 9:35 a.m. Eastern Aug. 25. The flight will be the eighth for this vehicle, which is different from the one that carried the company’s first people to space on a July 20 launch.

- This mission will carry 18 research payloads inside the capsule, 11 of which are supported by NASA through its Flight Opportunities program. An additional NASA experiment will collect data during the powered landing of the booster to test a sensor and computer system designed for future lunar landers. The spacecraft will also carry paintings by Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo on the parachute covers of the capsule as part of an art project by Uplift Aerospace.

- The flight will be the first for New Shepard since that July 20 crewed flight. At the time, company officials said they planned to do two more crewed New Shepard launches this year, as well as a payload-only flight.

- It will also be the first since the latest update to the company’s launch license, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration Aug. 13. The license is primarily a renewal of previous ones issued by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation dating back to 2017, with the new one valid for two years.

- A major change in the new license is in its “financial responsibility” requirements. Licensees must demonstrate that they are able to cover losses in the event of an accident up to a maximum probable loss, or MPL, determined by the FAA in the licensing process. In the case of New Shepard, that MPL figure is $150 million.

- Launch companies usually meet this requirement though liability insurance. However, a new section of the Blue Origin license sets up an alternative approach where an unnamed “parent guarantor” places the funding in an account exclusively intended to cover any losses. The agreement between Blue Origin and that parent guarantor “shall guarantee all necessary and required resources for compliance with FAA’s financial responsibility requirements, specifically in the amount of the MPL,” the license states.

- The license includes other provisions requiring that the company demonstrate that the funding is in place before each launch and that, before the first launch, provide a legal opinion from an independent law firm that the guarantee agreement is binding and enforceable.

- Blue Origin did not answer questions about why it took this alternative approach in its new license. One industry source, speaking on background, said it would allow Blue Origin to avoid paying premiums for the liability insurance that would otherwise be needed to meet the requirement. Those premiums would have grown as the FAA increased the MPL value on the license from $75 million to $150 million in July, when the agency modified the license to allow Blue Origin to carry people on the vehicle.

- Most companies opt not to self-insure because of the requirement to set aside a significant amount of money to cover losses. Blue Origin, though, is owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s wealthiest people with a net worth of nearly $200 billion.

• August 16, 2021: Blue Origin has filed suit against NASA in federal court, arguing that the agency failed to properly evaluate its proposal for the agency’s Human Landing System program, a procurement won by SpaceX. 17)

- Blue Origin filed suit Aug. 13 in the Court of Federal Claims, which has jurisdiction over bid protests after reviews by the Government Accountability Office. The company sought a protective order, sealing documents it filed in the case. The court granted that protective order Aug. 16.

- The company said it requested the protective order “to protect confidential, proprietary, and source selection information contained in the Complaint, and other filings and hearing transcripts in this bid protest.”

- Only in the motion to seal filings in the case did Blue Origin explicitly state that the case was about the HLS “Option A” award that NASA made to SpaceX in April. “More specifically, this bid protest challenges NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals submitted under the HLS Option A BAA,” or broad agency announcement, the company said in the motion.

- “Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS),” the company said a statement to SpaceNews. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”

- Blue Origin and Dynetics filed separate protests with the GAO in April, arguing NASA improperly evaluated their proposals compared to SpaceX, and that NASA erred in making only a single award rather than revising the competition or canceling it entirely. The GAO rejected those arguments, denying the protests July 30.

- The GAO went into more detail about its denial of the protests in an Aug. 10 public version of its decision document. It found no evidence that NASA improperly evaluated the proposals, concluding that “the record adequately supports NASA’s evaluation of the protesters’ proposals and was consistent with applicable procurement law, regulation, and the terms” of the solicitation.

- The GAO also concluded that NASA was within its rights to make only a single award, as the agency made clear in the Option A solicitation that it could make multiple awards, a single award or none at all.

- Blue Origin didn’t back down after the release of the 76-page GAO decision. “The GAO report confirms NASA’s desire for multiple awards and confirms that there were significant issues with how NASA conducted this procurement process,” the company said in an Aug. 11 statement. “We stand by our assessment that SpaceX received preferential treatment by conducting exclusive negotiations with them.”

- In the same statement, Blue Origin again called on NASA to make a second HLS award, despite the lack of funding to support such a deal. “We continue to urge NASA to restore competition and immediately award a second provider,” the company said. “Two providers ensure greater safety and mission success, promote competition, and control costs.”

- During the GAO protest, NASA halted work on the HLS award to SpaceX, but transferred $300 million to the company on July 30, the day the GAO denied the protests. It was not immediately clear if the Blue Origin suit in the Court of Federal Claims will force another stop-work order on the contract.

• August 16, 2021: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) offered more details about its decision to reject protests filed by two companies of NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) award to SpaceX. 18)

- The GAO released Aug. 10 a 76-page decision denying protests filed in April by Blue Origin and Dynetics of NASA’s decision to make a single HLS award, valued at $2.9 billion, to SpaceX. The GAO announced its decision July 30 but withheld the formal decision memo until a version suitable for public release, with redactions, was available.

- The GAO rejected claims by the protesting companies that NASA erred by making a single award when it discussed its desire to make multiple awards. The “plain terms” of the solicitation, the GAO concluded, “unequivocally put the protesters on notice that NASA could make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all.”

- The GAO decision provides new details about the financial constraints NASA faced when assessing the HLS proposals. NASA received $850 million from Congress in fiscal year 2021 for the HLS program and identified an additional $96 million from other programs that could go to HLS. However, $389 million of that funding was already committed to the “base period” awards NASA made to Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX in 2020, and $202 million reserved for internal and other costs for the program. That left $355 million available for the new HLS awards.

- All three companies requested initial milestone payments more than that amount, although the exact numbers are redacted in the public GAO document. NASA requested SpaceX, the lowest bidder, revise its payment structure to address that. The document does not disclose the new value of that initial milestone payment, although government contracting records show NASA paid SpaceX $300 million on July 30, the day the GAO rejected the protests.

- Blue Origin and Dynetics, the GAO concluded, “did not submit proposals priced in a manner that NASA could make multiple awards with the available funding for the HLS program.” While the questions about the importance of multiple competitors, the GAO added in its decision, “may merit further public debate, they do not establish that NASA has violated any applicable procurement law or regulation.”

- The GAO also rejected claims by Blue Origin and Dynetics that their proposals were unfairly evaluated in comparison with SpaceX’s proposal. These range from Blue Origin’s criticism of how its lander’s communications system was assessed to the mass of Dynetics’s lander that “far exceeds” its allocation.

- The GAO dismissed those claims, concluding that “the record adequately supports NASA’s evaluation of the protesters’ proposals and was consistent with applicable procurement law, regulation, and the terms” of the solicitation.

- However, the GAO did agree with one claim that the protestors made about how NASA evaluated SpaceX’s proposal. SpaceX’s concept of operations for its Starship lunar lander requires 16 launches: one of the lander itself, 14 “tanker” Starships to fuel it and another whose purpose is redacted. The protestors argued that NASA erred in not requiring a flight readiness review (FRR) for each launch.

- The GAO agreed that, under the terms of the solicitation, an FRR is needed before each launch, rather than one for the entire series of launches. NASA requested SpaceX amend its proposal to include two additional FRRs, but the GAO said that still fell short of the requirements in the solicitation.

- However, the GAO also concluded that this oversight did not have a material impact on the competition, stating in the document that “the record reflects that NASA’s evaluation was largely reasonable, and the relative competitive standing of the offerors under the non-price factors would not materially change.”

- Dynetics did not comment on the GAO report, and in a July 30 statement said that “while disappointed, we respect the GAO’s determination.” Blue Origin, though, offered no concessions even after the release of the report.

- “The GAO report confirms NASA’s desire for multiple awards and confirms that there were significant issues with how NASA conducted this procurement process,” the company said in an Aug. 11 statement. “We stand by our assessment that SpaceX received preferential treatment by conducting exclusive negotiations with them.”

- The company said it urged NASA to select a second provider, something agency officials said they support but lack the funding to do so currently. “Two providers ensure greater safety and mission success, promote competition, and control costs.”

- SpaceX did not comment on the report beyond tweets from company founder and chief executive Elon Musk addressing one aspect of the report regarding the need for 16 launches to support a single Starship lunar lander mission. “16 flights is extremely unlikely,” he said, estimating a “max of 8” flights to fill the tanks given the projected payload capacity of Starship, and possibly as few as four.

• August 5, 2021: United Launch Alliance underestimated the challenges Blue Origin would face in the development, testing and manufacturing of the BE-4 rocket engine, ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno said Aug. 5. The engine program is years behind schedule, he said, but the BE-4 so far is performing well in tests and fully assembled flight engines should be delivered within months. 19)

- Bruno: 'It's taking us longer to move through this test program. And the same is true on the production part of this.'

- “I expect that I will receive flight engines before the end of the year,” Bruno said in an interview with SpaceNews.

- Two BE-4 engines will power the first stage of ULA’s new rocket, Vulcan Centaur. ULA signed an agreement with Blue Origin in 2014 to jointly fund the development of the BE-4 and in 2015 announced it would build Vulcan as its next-generation rocket to replace the Atlas 5 and the Delta 4.


Figure 15: A pathfinder first stage of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur at Cape Canaveral, Florida (image credit: ULA)

- Blue Origin in 2015 proclaimed that engines would be ready by 2017. Bruno said everything in the BE-4 program has taken far longer than planned.

- “I’m not going to kid you: the engines are late,” Bruno said.

- “Why are they late? They’re late because it’s taking them longer to move through the test program, and it’s taking them longer to build the production engines than they planned.”

- “And why is that happening? It’s happening because the testing is more complicated than they anticipated. And because they allowed themselves, we allowed ourselves as a program, to have fewer test assets to work with than we originally planned,” he added.

- The combination of all these issues is “causing us to take longer to move through this test program. And the same is true on the production part of this,” said Bruno.

- The pre-qualification program will be followed by more rigorous qualification testing, both of which are happening in parallel to the fabrication of the flight engines. There is some risk involved in this approach but “no major issues” have emerged so far, he said.

- “We have done so much testing already that we are comfortable starting the manufacturing and even finishing the manufacturing of the flight engines. What we won’t do is fly those engines before all the testing is done.”

- Several BE-4 engines are currently undergoing pre-qualification tests at Blue Origin’s facilities in Van Horn, Texas. The first two flight engines are being assembled in Kent, Washington.

- The two flight engines may or may not be finished before the qualification program is finished, Bruno said. “We’ll take them as soon as they’re available, and we’ll start integrating them into a flight booster” at ULA’s rocket factory in Decatur, Alabama.

- During the pre-qualification testing, engineers are pushing the engine “above and beyond requirements,” he said. “That means running for longer durations, or at higher power levels. It’s just a good thing to do when you have the opportunity.”

- As things stand today, said Bruno, “the engine continues to perform well.”

- “The thrust levels are where we want them, the efficiency of the engine [the ISP or specific impulse] is higher than we expected. The engine has been run at its minimum power level, it’s been run above its maximum power level,” he added. “We have many thousands of seconds across several engines so we’re feeling very good about the design of our engine.”

- During a new engine development it’s expected that tweaks might be needed but “hopefully what you don’t find are big problems with the engine that require any kind of significant redesign,” Bruno said. “We haven’t had any of those big things since we’ve been in our pre qualification testing. We’re deciding if we want to make minor adjustments before we go into formal qualification.”

- An unspecified number of BE-4 engines are going through pre-qualification and several more will be used for the formal qualification, Bruno said. The first pair of flight engines will not see qualification testing but will be hot fired before they are delivered to the rocket factory.

- Testing and manufacturing “literally the same article” is more complicated than Blue Origin had planned or anticipated, said Bruno. “It’s just taking them longer to get through it, to actually build those engines for us as well as finish up the testing.”

- The flight engines will be mated with a Vulcan booster that is currently at ULA’s facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida. They’ll get fired one more time on the pad before the first launch, Bruno said. “This flight readiness firing is just a one-time event. It’s like a qualification test for the whole booster” before it goes into the vertical integration facility where the upper stage and payload are stacked.

What’s at stake for ULA

- The success of Vulcan is critical to the future of ULA. The company won one of two contracts (SpaceX won the other) the U.S. Space Force awarded in August 2020 for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement.

- The Space Force invested nearly $1 billion in the development of Vulcan and also needs it to succeed because the law bans DoD from procuring launches on Atlas 5 beyond 2022. Congress passed that law in 2016 due to geopolitical tensions with Russia. The Atlas 5 booster uses the Russian RD-180 engine.

- ULA’s first mission under the Phase 2 contract was expected to be flown by Vulcan in late 2022 but ULA asked to switch the mission to Atlas 5 as Vulcan would not be ready on time. The switch was allowed under the terms of the contract but stirred speculation about ULA’s and Blue Origin’s ability to bring Vulcan and BE-4 to fruition.

- Vulcan needs to complete two non-NSSL orbital missions before it can be certified for national security launch. Besides the engine delays, another problem for ULA is that its first Vulcan customers — Astrobotic and Sierra Nevada Corp. — are late building their payloads. Bruno said he is confident these payloads will be ready next year but if they’re not, ULA will seek other customers to fly on Vulcan so it can be certified for its first NSSL mission in 2023.

- Further concerns were raised by the Government Accountability Office in a June report that stated “A U.S. produced rocket engine under development for ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle is experiencing technical challenges related to the igniter and booster capabilities required.”

- Bruno said he was “dumbfounded” by GAO’s assessment that the engine igniter was a problem.

- The igniter is not a technical challenge but a design issue, he said. Blue Origin is making the BE-4 for ULA and also to power its own heavy rocket New Glenn. About a year and a half ago, ULA and Blue Origin decided that the first BE-4s would be made with an igniter suitable for Vulcan but not for New Glenn, which has a reusable first stage and would need a different igniter for propulsive flyback.

- “It has always been our intention to have at first a configuration of the engine for Vulcan and a slightly different configuration of the engine for New Glenn,” Bruno said. “The igniter was one of those choices made quite some time ago. And it’s certainly not a technical issue today.”

‘We are in this together’

- Bruno said the chatter about ULA considering ending its partnership with Blue Origin is just that — chatter.

- “We have a solid relationship with our engine provider,” he said. “We know that we are in this together,” Bruno added. “There is no mission for our new rocket without engines, and there is no practical engine fabrication capability without us as a customer.”

- He said Blue Origin has “very good technical people, many highly experienced rocket engine designers who know their work, know their business.”

- “When we got into this partnership we anticipated that there would be a challenge in moving through a large complicated development program and then standing up a production line for flight hardware,” Bruno said. “It has been a little bit more challenging than certainly they anticipated, but it’s also been harder for them than we anticipated and that’s why it’s taking a bit more time.”

- Bruno pushed back on suggestions that he is being protective of Blue Origin and glossing over the company’s lackluster performance on the engine program.

- That’s not the case, he said. “You can’t cover things up, and if you’re trying to hide things they eventually come to light anyway and then you lose credibility, so I always prefer to be upfront and transparent. I’m not protecting them. They are professionals, and they can stand up for themselves.”

• July 26, 2020: Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos says his company will cover more than $2 billion in costs if NASA will award it a second Human Landing System (HLS) contract. 20)

- In a July 26 letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Bezos said the company would waive up to $2 billion in payments in the first years of a new award, as well as pay for a demonstration mission, should NASA give the company an HLS award like the one SpaceX received in April to develop and demonstrate a crewed lunar lander.

- “We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Program back on a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path,” Bezos wrote in the letter.

- In his proposal, Bezos said that Blue Origin will waive any payments both in the current fiscal year as well as the next two, up to $2 billion. “This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments,” he wrote. “This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up.”


Figure 16: The Blue Origin national team integrated lander vehicle (image credit: Blue Origin)

- Blue Origin would also carry out at its own expense “a pathfinder mission to low-Earth orbit of the lunar descent element to further retire development and schedule risks.” That would be in addition to an uncrewed lunar landing demonstration that the company says was part of its “baseline plan” for developing the lunar lander system.

- Bezos added that Blue Origin would accept a firm-fixed-price contract for the work, something that NASA had already required for HLS.

- The letter is the latest bid to get NASA to award a second HLS contract, something the agency had originally planned. However, in April it announced it was making a single HLS award to SpaceX because of budget constraints. SpaceX offered the lowest bid at $2.9 billion, compared to $5.99 billion by the Blue Origin-led “National Team” and $8.5–9 billion by Dynetics, the third bidder.

- Blue Origin officials complained that, unlike SpaceX, they were not given a change to revise their price during the HLS competition, an argument Bezos reiterated in his letter. “That was a mistake, it was unusual, and it was a missed opportunity,” he said. “NASA veered from its original dual-source acquisition strategy due to perceived near-term budgetary issues, and this offer removes that obstacle.”

- NASA officials said in April they did not negotiate because of the limited funding it had available. “I do not have enough funding available to even attempt to negotiate a price from Blue Origin that could potentially enable a contract award,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, wrote in the source selection statement outlining her rationale for selecting only SpaceX.

- Both Blue Origin and Dynetics filed protests with the Government Accountability Office regarding the HLS awards. The GAO has an Aug. 4 deadline to rule on the protests.

- Agency officials have declined to discuss details about its HLS plans, citing a “blackout” imposed by the protest. “The contract to SpaceX is held in abeyance right now as it is contested,” Nelson said in a July 21 webinar by The Washington Post. “We’re expecting an announcement in the next few weeks and, on the basis of that, we will then proceed.”

- Nelson has lobbied Congress for additional funding to be able to support a second HLS provider regardless of the outcome of the GAO protests. “We need some more money to enhance and procure that competition so that there are other players that get involved,” he said in the webinar.

- He previously told congressional appropriators that NASA would need $5.4 billion in additional funding to support a second HLS provider, suggesting that money could be included in a separate jobs and infrastructure funding package. However, there’s been no sign that such funding would be included, and a House version of a fiscal year 2022 spending bill provided $1.345 billion for HLS, just $150 million above the agency’s request.

• July 20, 2021: Jeff Bezos and the others who were on the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle hailed the experience as better than expected, but Bezos is facing a backlash for spending part of his extreme wealth on space. 21)

- In a ceremony a couple hours after their brief suborbital spaceflight July 20, Blue Origin awarded their version of astronaut wings to Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen. The four then described the experience of the 10-minute flight to an altitude of 107 kilometers.

- “My expectations were high, and they were dramatically exceeded,” Jeff Bezos said. That included both the several minutes of microgravity and the view of the Earth from suborbital altitudes, which he called “very profound.”

- “It was incredibly exhilarating,” Mark Bezos said, emphasizing the acceleration felt during launch and reentry, which during reentry peaked at five times the force of gravity.

- “It felt way cooler than it looked,” Daemen, who at 18 years old is now the youngest person to go to space, said after Blue Origin showed a video of the four of them moving around the cabin while in microgravity.

- The 82-year-old Funk, now the oldest person to go to space, was the only one to offer even slightly critical comments about the experience. “I loved every minute of it. I just wish it was longer,” she said. “There was not quite enough room for all four of us.” The New Shepard cabin is designed to carry up to six people. - However, she added, “It was great. I loved it. I can hardly wait to go again.”


Figure 17: The NS-16 crew poses in front of the booster that launched their mission. From left: Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Wally Funk and Mark Bezos (image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)

Nearly $100 million in sales

- At the ceremony, Jeff Bezos reiterated past statements by Blue Origin officials that the company is planning two more crewed flights of New Shepard the rest of this year. “What we do in the following year I’m not sure yet. We’ll figure that out, and what the cadence will eventually be,” he said.

- The company has quietly been selling tickets for future flights through private sales, starting with participants in the June auction. “We’re approaching $100 million in private sales already, and the demand is very, very high,” he said.

- He emphasized his desire to reach a very high flight rate, which will require building new vehicles with longer lifetimes. The vehicle flown on the July 20 flight is designed to make 25 flights; this was its third.

- “We’d like to make that closer to 100 than to 25” flights, he said. “Once it’s close to 100, we’ll push it past 100.”


Figure 18: Jeff Bezos (third from left) speaks at a post-flight ceremony with the other people who flew on the NS-16 mission (from left): Oliver Daemen, Mark Bezos and Wally Funk (image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)

Praise and criticism

- The successful flight generated widespread public interest as well as praise from many in space industry, including suborbital spaceflight rival Virgin Galactic. “It continues to be a great time for commercial space travel!” that company tweeted after the flight. “Congrats to @blueorigin on today’s successful flight, together we’ll open space for good!”

- It also got the attention of the White House. “The United States is the first country to have private companies taking private passengers to space. This is a moment of American exceptionalism. That’s how we see it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a July 20 briefing. “It will be the ingenuity of all of our commercial partners to help us continue advancing to the next stage of our nation’s space exploration.”

- Others, though, saw nothing about the suborbital flight to praise. Shortly after New Shepard landed, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced his intent to introduce legislation to tax commercial human spaceflight launches that lack a scientific purpose.

- “Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy. Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some,” he said in a statement.

- His proposed Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act would levy a per-passenger tax on space tourism at two different rates: one for suborbital flights and a higher rate for orbital flights.

- Blumenauer didn’t disclose additional details about the SPACE Tax Act, and a spokesperson said he would introduce the bill in the “coming weeks” after consultations with experts.

- Another member of Congress suggested that Blue Origin was distracted by its New Shepard flight from other work, notably the development of the BE-4 engine that will power both its own New Glenn rocket and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. “Congratulations to @blueorigin on your successful space flight. The future is bright for American space innovation,” tweeted Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) “Now please get back to work on the engines for @ulalaunch’s Vulcan rocket.”

- At the ceremony, Jeff Bezos did not directly address those criticisms or more general ones about Bezos’s wealth and his decision to spend it on space rather than more terrestrial pursuits. He emphasized, though, the value of seeing the Earth from space to better appreciate the environment, calling the Earth the “only good planet in the solar system.”

- “This is the only good one,” he said of the Earth, “and we have to take care of it. If you go to space you’ll see how fragile it is and want to take care of it even more.”

- Bezos diverged from discussing Blue Origin to announce a new project, the Courage and Civility Award. He gave the first two such awards to activist and political commentator Van Jones and to chef and humanitarian José Andrés. Each received $100 million from Bezos.

- Bezos also benefited from the presence of Funk, who often stole the show with her enthusiasm about going to space six decades after being one of the “Mercury 13” women who passed astronaut medical examinations but never had the opportunity to become NASA astronauts. “Wally Funk is now on my list of people that I would most like to meet in the country,” Psaki said at the White House briefing. “She’s America’s new sweetheart.”

• July 20, 2021: Blue Origin performed its first crewed New Shepard launch July 20, sending company founder Jeff Bezos and three other people on a suborbital flight. 22)

New Shepard lifted off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 9:12 a.m. EDT on the NS-16 mission. The crew capsule, called RSS (Reusable Space Ship) First Step, separated from its booster and reached a peak altitude of 107 kilometers before descending under parachutes to a landing 10 minutes and 10 seconds after liftoff. The booster performed a powered landing nearly seven and a half minutes after liftoff.


Figure 19: Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle lifts off on its first crewed flight July 20 from West Texas (image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)

- On board New Shepard was Jeff Bezos, the founder and recently retired chief executive of, who established Blue Origin more than two decades ago. He has invested several billion dollars into the company, creating New Shepard as well as its New Glenn orbital launch vehicle under development, the BE-4 engine and lunar lander concepts.

- “Best day ever!” he exclaimed minutes after landing.

- Also on board was Mark Bezos, the younger brother of Jeff Bezos, who was invited by his brother to be on the flight. On July 1, Blue Origin announced that Wally Funk, who completed astronaut medical exams six decades ago as one of the “Mercury 13” women, would join the flight. The fourth and final person, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, formally joined the crew July 15. Daemen took the place of the winner of a June 12 auction, who bid $28 million for the seat but who later had “scheduling conflicts” that kept that person from flying.

- At 82, Funk became the oldest person to fly to space, breaking the record set by John Glenn when he flew to space for the second time on the space shuttle in 1998 at the age of 77. Daeman, 18 years old, became the youngest, breaking the record set by Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov in 1961 when he flew about a month before turning 26.

- The flight was the first time that New Shepard, which started its test flight program in 2015, carried people. The vehicle is designed to fly autonomously, and all previous flights carried only experiments or other cargo.

- That series of test flights, capped off by two flights in January and April, convinced Blue Origin it was ready to fly people. “We followed a methodical, step-by-step approach to get to this point in time. We’re ready,” Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said at a pre-launch media briefing July 18.

- Smith said the company was confident enough in the design to allow four people on the first flight, including Daemen, who is the company’s first commercial customer, rather than fly company personnel. That was based on the two previous flights, which demonstrated that the vehicle is a stable configuration.

- “By doing so, we’ve exercised not only the design but also the manufacturing and all of the operations,” he said. “When we had clean flights from both of those, we said, ‘We’re ready to go. We can go fly astronauts and do it safely.’”

- While the company is confident to go directly into commercial operations, Smith said the crew of this flight were asked to perform “a few evaluations of capabilities of what we’re seeing in flight.”

- “There’s really no difference in how we operate the vehicle and the systems whether they’re employees or commercial customers,” said Steve Lanius, NS-16 flight director, at the briefing. “They’re still human beings.”


Figure 20: The New Shepard capsule descends under parachutes during its July 20 crewed flight (image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)

- Jeff Bezos, in a CBS television interview July 19, expressed no reservations about flying on New Shepard. “People keep asking me if I am nervous. I am not really nervous. I am excited. I am curious,” he said. “We’ve been training, this vehicle is ready, this crew is ready, this team is amazing. We just feel really good about it.”

- Blue Origin plans to conduct two more crewed New Shepard flights this year, with the first in late September or early October. Smith said the company has seen “high interest” from potential customers, but has not disclosed how many people have signed up or at what prices. Another uncrewed flight, carrying research payloads, is also scheduled for later this year.

• July 18, 2021: Blue Origin is on track to perform the first crewed launch of its New Shepard vehicle July 20, carrying company founder Jeff Bezos and three others on a suborbital spaceflight. 23)

- At a July 18 news conference, company officials said they had successfully completed a flight readiness review for the NS-16 mission that will carry Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen. Liftoff of New Shepard from the company’s Launch Site One north of Van Horn, Texas, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern July 20.

- “We are not currently working any open issues and New Shepard is ready to fly,” Steve Lanius, NS-16 flight director at Blue Origin, said at the briefing. “We expect to be ready to launch on schedule.”

- Weather is also looking favorable for the launch, he said. There is a slight chance of thunderstorms in the early morning hours July 20, but any storms are forecast to clear before launch.

- While engineers complete final checks of New Shepard’s crew capsule and propulsion module, the four people who will fly on the spacecraft are going through 14 hours of training spread across two days. This features a mix of classroom instruction, demonstrations and practice in a training capsule, Lanius said, including nominal, off-nominal and emergency procedures.

- Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said the company took a “methodical, step-by-step approach” in the development and testing of New Shepard over a series of 15 uncrewed test flights dating back to 2015. However, he defended the company’s decision to move into crewed flight by flying four people on the first launch, including a paying customer, rather than flying a smaller number of company employees first.

- He said the previous two flights, in January and April, demonstrated that the vehicle was in a “stable configuration” and ready to go into full-scaled human spaceflight. “When we had clean flights from both of those, we said we were ready to go. We can go fly astronauts and do that safely,” he said. “We didn’t see any value, quite honestly, from doing things stepwise in that approach.”

- The four people on board will be asked to perform “a few evaluations of capabilities” of the vehicle during the flight, Smith said. The vehicle itself, though, will fly autonomously.

- If the NS-16 flight goes as expected, Blue Origin expects to perform two more New Shepard flights this year, with the first of them in late September or early October. The company did not discuss flight schedules beyond this year.

- Blue Origin announced Daemen as the fourth person on the NS-16 flight July 15. The 18-year-old Dutch teenager is taking the place unidentified winner of a June 12 auction for the seat after that individual had what the company called a “scheduling conflict” that kept that person from flying.

- Blue Origin added Daemen to the flight because he had already signed up to fly on the company’s second crewed New Shepard mission. He is one of an unspecified number of people who have purchased tickets since the auction for later flights.

- “Since the auction that we held on June 12, I have had the pleasure of chatting with many of our future customers that have already signed up for the subsequent flights,” said Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, at the briefing. “We have already built a robust pipeline of customers that are interested.”

- The company didn’t disclose how many people have purchased tickets or at what price, but Smith suggested that those customers who participated in the auction were paying a premium. “Willingness to pay continues to be quite high. Our early flights are going for a very good price,” he said. “I think we’re seeing very strong interest.”

• July 15, 2021: An 18-year-old Dutch man will fly on Blue Origin’s first crewed New Shepard suborbital flight, taking the place of the unidentified winner of an auction last month for the seat. 24)

- Blue Origin announced July 15 that Oliver Daemen will be the fourth and final member of the crew of the New Shepard flight launching July 20 from the company’s West Texas spaceport. Daemen will join Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk on the 10-minute suborbital flight.

- Oliver Daemen is the son of Joes Daemen, the chief executive and founder and Somerset Capital Partners. He was one of the bidders in the June 12 auction for the seat on the flight but did not make the high bid.

- Blue Origin said the person who made the winning $28 million bid, who remains anonymous, “has chosen to fly on a future New Shepard mission due to scheduling conflicts.” The company did not elaborate on those scheduling conflicts, but Blue Origin stated the flight would take place on July 20 when it announced its plans, and started the auction process, May 5.


Figure 21: Oliver Daemen, 18, will be the fourth person on Blue Origin's New Shepard flight, becoming the youngest person in space in the process (image credit: Blue Origin)

- A Blue Origin spokesperson confirmed that Daemen “had secured a seat on the second flight” of New Shepard and that the company “moved him up when this seat on the first flight became available.”

- Blue Origin had not previously disclosed it had sold any tickets beyond the seat auctioned in June. At the time of the auction, though, a company executive said Blue Origin would reach out to other auction participants about buying seats on future flights.

- “We will also find additional astronauts who will fly on our other upcoming early missions,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut and orbital sales at Blue Origin, said at the June 12 auction. “Following the auction, we are going to contact the most competitive bidders from today to offer them access to those early flights.”

- A company spokesperson declined to say how many additional seats it had sold, or what price Daemen or any other customers paid.

- Blue Origin described Daemen as a man with an interest in space that dates back to the age of four — or approximately 2007, several years after Bezos founded Blue Origin. Daemen is taking a gap year before starting studies at the University of Utrecht.

- “I am super excited to go to space,” he said in a video posted by the Dutch publication Bright. “I’ve been dreaming about this all my life and I will become the youngest astronaut because I’m 18 years old.”

- At 18, Daemen will break the record for youngest person in space. Gherman Titov was 25 years and nearly 11 months old when he became the second man in space on the Vostok 2 orbital mission in August 1961.

- Funk, meanwhile, will set the record for the oldest person in space on the same flight. At 82 years old, she will break the record set by John Glenn, who was 77 when we went to space for a second time on the STS-95 shuttle mission in 1998.

• July 15, 2021: With less than a week before its first crewed suborbital spaceflight, Blue Origin is distributing some of the proceeds from an auction for one of the seats on that flight to a group of space-related nonprofit organizations. 25)

- Blue Origin announced July 14 it is awarding $1 million each to 19 organizations through its foundation, Club for the Future. The organizations include a wide range of educational and advocacy groups, from the Challenger Center and Space Camp to The Planetary Society and the International Astronautical Federation.

- “This donation is enabling Club for the Future to rapidly expand its reach by partnering with 19 organizations to develop and inspire the next generation of space professionals,” Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said in a statement.

- For some of the organizations, the $1 million award far exceeds their annual budgets. The Mars Society, for example, reported annual revenue of less than $400,000 in its most recent publicly available filing with the Internal Revenue Service, while the Space Frontier Foundation reported an annual revenue of less than $430,000.

- The organizations welcomed the awards but offered few specifics about how they would spend the money beyond support for some kind of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education projects. “This incredibly generous grant from Blue Origin will allow us to expand our educational and career development programs to countless young people,” Anita Gale, chief executive of the National Space Society, said in a statement.

- Space Center Houston, which operates a visitor complex adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said it will use the grant to expand programs to reach disadvantaged students in the Houston area. “With Blue Origin’s support, we can empower students with hands-on STEM learning opportunities through the wonders of space exploration,” William Harris, president and chief executive of Space Center Houston, said in a statement.

- The funding comes from the auction Blue Origin completed June 12 for a seat on the first crew New Shepard suborbital flight, which sold for $28 million. The remaining proceeds from the auction will be used by Club for the Future for its own space education programs.

- The company has not disclosed the winning bidder, even though the flight is scheduled to take place in less than a week. Blue Origin confirmed July 12 that launch will take place July 20 from its West Texas test site, with liftoff scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has updated its license for New Shepard launches to allow the company to carry spaceflight participants on board.

- Joining the auction winner on that flight will be Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and Wally Funk, one of the “Mercury 13” women who passed astronaut medical exams six decades ago but never received an opportunity to become NASA astronauts.

- Bezos overshadowed Blue Origin’s awards with a much larger one of his own July 14. He is giving $200 million to the National Air and Space Museum that will go towards renovations of the museum and a new educational center. The Smithsonian Institution called the donation the largest single gift it received since its founding by James Smithson in 1846.

• June 12, 2021: A seat on the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle sold for $28 million at an auction June 12. 26)

- The live auction wrapped up a bidding process that the company announced May 5 to sell the seat on the flight, scheduled for July 20 from the company’s West Texas test site. The process started with sealed bids, followed by an online bidding process that closed June 10. Qualified bidders then participated in the final live auction, where the high bid reached $28 million in about 10 minutes. The proceeds go to Club for the Future, an educational nonprofit organization affiliated with Blue Origin.

- The identity of the winning bidder was not immediately disclosed. The winner can fly on the New Shepard flight or designate another individual to go on the flight. Blue Origin’s Ariane Cornell said that the winner’s identity will be disclosed within a couple weeks, along with the fourth and final member of the crew.

- Interest in the auction grew after Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announced June 7 that he will be on the flight along with his brother Mark. The high bid for the flight went from $2.8 million at the time Bezos announced his plans to $4.8 million when the online process closed June 10.

- The July 20 flight will be the first to carry people on New Shepard, which has flown 15 uncrewed test flights over several years. The most recent flight, April 14, was a dress rehearsal for crewed flights, with several Blue Origin employees playing the role of astronauts, testing getting into and out of the capsule during pre- and post-flight activities.

- Blue Origin’s major competitor in suborbital spaceflight, Virgin Galactic, flew its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, on its first trip to the edge of space in more than two years May 22. The vehicle, with two pilots on board, flew to an altitude of 89.2 kilometers before landing back at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

- Virgin Galactic previously discussed performing three more SpaceShipTwo test flights through the fall before going into a maintenance period, then starting full-scale commercial service in early 2022. The next flight was to carry four Virgin Galactic employees, along with two pilots, to test out the cabin interior.

- However, Parabolic Arc reported June 7 that the company is reportedly considering having its founder, Richard Branson, go on the next flight. He was scheduled to go on the second of the three flights, with the third being a commercial research and astronaut training flight for the Italian Air Force. Under that revised plan, Branson’s flight would take place around July 4, more than two weeks before Bezos goes to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.

- In a statement June 8, Virgin Galactic said it had not yet determined the date of its next SpaceShipTwo flight, but neither confirmed nor denied the report that Branson would be on that flight.

• June 7, 2021: Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and founder of Blue Origin, announced June 7 that he will go on the first crewed flight of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle next month. 27) 28)

- In an Instagram post, Bezos said that he, and his brother Mark, will go on the suborbital flight, scheduled for July 20 from Blue Origin’s West Texas test site.

- “I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me,” Bezos says in the brief video.

- Blue Origin announced May 5 that, after years of development and more than a dozen uncrewed test flights, the company was finally ready to fly people on New Shepard. At the time, the company did not disclose who would fly on the vehicle, other than it would make one seat available to the winner of an auction.

- That online auction is ongoing, with a current high bid of $2.8 million. The auction is set to conclude June 12 with a live auction among qualified bidders.


Figure 22: Jeff Bezos announced June 7 he will fly on Blue Origin’s first crewed New Shepard flight in July, accompanied by his brother (image credit: Tom Kimmell for SpaceNews)

• May 5, 2021: Blue Origin announced May 5 that it will fly people on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle for the first time July 20, and will auction off one of the seats on that launch. 29)

- The company said that, after years of test flights without anyone on board, it will start flying people on New Shepard. The announcement took place 60 years to the day after the vehicle’s namesake, Alan Shepard, became the first American space on the suborbital Mercury 3 launch. The scheduled date of the flight is the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

- The company hinted during its most recent test flight of the vehicle April 14 that it was ready to start flying people on the vehicle. The company used the flight to test procedures for future crew flights, including having company personnel, playing the role of customers, boarding the vehicle during prelaunch preparations, and also practicing exiting the vehicle after landing.

- “We have flown this vehicle 15 times and, after the last flight, we said, ‘It’s time. Let’s put people on board,’” said Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, in a call with reporters.

- The company did not disclose who would fly on the vehicle, capable of carrying six people, beyond that it will make one seat available to the public via an auction. The company will accept sealed bids through May 19, then go into an unsealed bidding phase, concluding in a live auction June 12. Blue Origin said the proceeds of the auction will go to an affiliated nonprofit organization, the Club for the Future, that supports STEM education activities.


Figure 23: The interior of the New Shepard crew capsule, which will carry people for the first time on a July 20 suborbital launch (image credit: Blue Origin)

- When Blue Origin announced April 29 that it would disclose its plans for selling the first seat on New Shepard, many expected it would formally unveil long-awaited plans to start selling tickets. The company has said little about its ticket sales strategy, including how much they would cost.

- Cornell declined to discuss how the company would sell tickets beyond this initial auction. “We don’t have details on the prices for future seats, and we will announce the details of how those future seats will be sold in the future, after this auction.” She added the company will take notes of the “most active bidders” in that auction for follow-up on future ticket sales.

- She also said that, after the July 20 flight, “we will have a couple more crewed flights before the end of the year.”

- While the company didn’t disclose details on ticket sales, the company is sharing more information on the spaceflight experience. Cornell said that those who fly on New Shepard will arrive at the company’s West Texas site four days before launch and undergo three days of training. That will include working in a mockup of the New Shepard crew capsule learning procedures for getting in and out of the vehicle as well as emergency protocols.

- Those who fly New Shepard have to meet a number of physical and other conditions, according to a terms and conditions document posted on the company’s website. That includes being at least 18 years old, weighing between 50 and 101 kg, being between 152 to 193 cm tall, and able to withstand 3g’s of acceleration during launch and 5.5g’s “for a few seconds” during reentry.

- Blue Origin didn’t disclose how many people signaled an interest in flying on New Shepard by signing up on its website in the last week to find out how they could buy tickets. “I can say that the website has gotten a workout in the last week,” Cornell said. “Obviously, we hope that is a good precursor to excitement and participation in the auction on June 12.”

- Loizos Heracleous, professor of strategy at the Warwick Business School, noted that there are about six million people worldwide with a net worth of at least $5 million, and thus likely in the addressable market for a flight like this.

- “For some it will be about bragging rights, for others it will be an experience of a lifetime,” he said in a statement about why people would be willing to pay a premium to fly on a suborbital vehicle. “In strict financial terms it might not seem a wise decision, but if it’s a small part of their disposable income or net worth, they might want to do it.”

• May 5, 2021: On July 20th, New Shepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. We are offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of Blue Origin’s online auction. Starting today, anyone can place an opening bid by going to 30)

Here are the three phases of the auction:

1) May 5-19: Sealed online bidding – you can bid any amount you want on the auction website (no bids are visible)

2) May 19: Unsealed online bidding – bidding becomes visible and participants must exceed the highest bid to continue in the auction

3) June 12: Live auction – the bidding concludes with a live online auction.

- The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.

- On this day 60 years ago, Alan Shepard made history by becoming the first American to fly to space. In the decades since, fewer than 600 astronauts have been to space above the Kármán Line to see the borderless Earth and the thin limb of our atmosphere. They all say this experience changes them.

- We named our launch vehicle after Alan Shepard to honor his historic flight. New Shepard has flown 15 successful consecutive missions to space and back above the Kármán Line through a meticulous and incremental flight program to test its multiple redundant safety systems. Now, it’s time for astronauts to climb onboard.

- This seat will change how you see the world.


Figure 24: Your flight to space and back (image credit: Blue Origin)

Launch: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin aims to launch its first-ever crewed mission on a date already steeped in spaceflight history, and you can bid for a seat on that flight. The company is targeting July 20 for the debut astronaut launch of its New Shepard vehicle, which is designed to take people and scientific experiments on brief trips to suborbital space (Ref. 29). On that date in 1969, NASA's Apollo 11 mission touched down on the lunar surface, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans ever to set foot on a world beyond Earth.

Flight test program

A multi-year program of flight tests was begun in 2015 and is continuing in 2018. By mid-2016, the test program was sufficiently advanced that Blue Origin has begun flying suborbital research payloads for universities and NASA. A few missions of the flight test program are listed.

• April 14, 2021: Blue Origin completed another test flight of its New Shepard vehicle April 14, putting the company on the verge of finally flying people. 31)


Figure 25: Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle lifts off April 14 from the company’s West Texas test site (image credit: Blue Origin webcast)

- Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle lifted off from the company’s West Texas test site, known as Launch Site One by the company, at 12:51 p.m. EDT. The capsule, separating from its booster after the powered phase of flight, reached a peak altitude of about 106 km before parachuting to a soft landing 10 and a half minutes after liftoff, three minutes after the booster made a powered landing.

- The flight profile for the mission, designated NS-15 by the company, closely followed previous test flights. The key differences for this flight were the activities before and after the flight, as the company tested procedures it will use for later crewed flights.

- About 45 minutes before liftoff, four Blue Origin employees playing the role of customers drove to the pad with other personnel, simulating the activities before an actual crewed flight. Two of them then boarded the capsule, strapping in and testing communications before exiting. They then left the launchpad and returned to mission control before the uncrewed vehicle launched.

- After the capsule landing, those personnel returned to the capsule, in this case to test the process astronauts will follow to exit the capsule at the end of the flight.

- Blue Origin used the webcast to provide some more information about its human spaceflight plans. Customers will arrive at the West Texas site three days before a mission for training, staying in facilities across a highway from the launch site.

- During training, and in final launch preparations, the six astronauts flying on a New Shepard mission will be accompanied by “CrewMember 7,” a Blue Origin employee. There will be two employees carrying that role, one accompanying the astronauts as they strap into the capsule and the other that will serve as a capcom, or capsule communicator, in mission control.

- The NS-14 flight carried no people, but instead the company’s “Mannequin Skywalker” anthropomorphic test device and more than 25,000 student postcards. Blue Origin noted in the webcast that it planned to donate Mannequin Skywalker after the end of the test program to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

- Exactly when that test program will end and commercial crewed flights will begin remain uncertain. The company offered no updates on its schedule for flying people, either company personnel or customers, during the event. It also did not discuss when it planned to start selling tickets or what price they will charge.

- Company officials, though, continued to hint that crewed missions will begin soon, albeit years behind original projections. “We’re getting so close to flying people here at Blue Origin. This is a very, very important step on our march to first human flight,” said Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut and orbital sales at Blue Origin, during the company’s webcast of the NS-15 mission. “You can almost taste it.”


Figure 26: The New Shepard crew capsule lands in the West Texas desert after the NS-15 mission on April 14, 2021 (image credit: Blue Origin)

Figure 27: April 14, 2021: Blue Origin has been flight testing the New Shepard rocket and its redundant safety systems since 2012. The program has completed 15 consecutive successful missions, including three successful tests of the crew escape system, showing it can activate safely in any phase of flight (video credit: Blue Origin)

• December 17, 2018: Blue Origin plans to conduct the next test flight of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle no earlier than Dec. 21 as the company moves closer to flying people into space. 32)

- In a statement Dec. 17, the company said the next New Shepard flight, designated NS-10, will take place Dec. 18 at 9:30 a.m. Eastern from its West Texas test site that has hosted all previous New Shepard tests. The flight, like several past flights, will be webcast. The statement came after the publication by the Federal Aviation Administration of restricted airspace around the company’s launch site for a three-day period starting Dec. 18.

- However, the company announced less than an hour before the scheduled launch that it was scrubbing the launch because of a “ground infrastructure issue.” The company said late Dec. 18 that, because of additional work needed on that issue, as well as weather, it has rescheduled the launch for no earlier than Dec. 21.

- The flight will be the first for New Shepard since a July 18 launch that tested the abort motor in the crew capsule. The motor fired shortly after the capsule separated from its propulsion module, with the capsule making a regular landing under parachutes while the propulsion module made a powered vertical landing.

- The NS-10 flight will use the same propulsion module and crew capsule as the July flight, but is intended to be a more standard suborbital spaceflight. The vehicle will be carrying nine experiments provided by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the company said. As with all previous flights, there will be no people on this New Shepard mission, but the company noted that the research payloads play a “role in perfecting technology for a future human presence in space.” A second booster recently arrived at the site that the company says will be used for future crewed flights.

- The experiments on the flight are from a mix of universities, institutes and NASA centers. The payloads range from microgravity research payloads in fields like fluid dynamics and planetary science to technology demonstrations that will monitor conditions in the vehicle.

- This New Shepard flight comes less than a week after Virgin Galactic performed the first flight of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle to reach the edge of space. That flight carried four NASA Flight Opportunities payloads. Three of those payloads — a vibration isolation platform from Controlled Dynamics Inc., an experiment to map the behavior of dust particles on planetary surfaces from the University of Central Florida and a biological fluorescent imaging instrument from the University of Florida — are also flying on the New Shepard mission.

- That SpaceShipTwo flight Dec. 13 reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers, above the 50-mile (80.5 km) level where U.S. government agencies award altitude wings but below the 100-kilometer Karman Line often used as the boundary of space. That’s led to some debate about whether SpaceShipTwo actually flew to space.

- By contrast, most New Shepard test flights have flown to altitudes above 100 k, including 118.8 km on the latest flight thanks to the additional boost provided by the escape motor. The upcoming flight is also expected to exceed 100 km.

- Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are preparing to start flying people on their suborbital vehicles in 2019. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, confirmed in an interview after the latest SpaceShipTwo flight that he plans to be on the first commercial SpaceShipTwo flight, which could take place after a handful of additional test flights. “Sometime next year, once the testing is finished, then I’ll do my flight,” he said.

- Virgin Galactic has about 700 customers who have paid at least a deposit on tickets that cost up to $250,000. Branson said that the company, which stopped selling tickets four years ago after a test flight accident destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo, would resume taking reservations again soon. That ticket price “will go up a bit,” Branson said, but decrease a few years later.

- Blue Origin has yet to start selling tickets for New Shepard flights, although one official said in June ticket sales could begin in 2019. Company executives, including founder Jeff Bezos, said earlier this year they hadn’t even decided yet on a ticket price for those flights, waiting until the vehicle is further along in its test program before doing so.

- “We continue to be head down on making sure the configuration is good and stable and ready to fly,” Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said in an April interview on the status of New Shepard development. “Once we all feel confident that that’s the case, then we’ll have the conversation internally about what prices are and what that whole process looks like.”

- That process has taken longer than what company officials previously suggested. Speaking at a suborbital research conference in December 2017, Jeff Ashby, director of safety and mission assurance for Blue Origin, said the company was “roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes.”

- “I’m hopeful it will happen in 2019,” Bezos said during an on-stage interview at the Wired25 conference in October when asked when Blue Origin would start flying people on New Shepard. “I was hopeful it would happen in 2018. I keep telling the team that it’s not a race. I want this to be the safest space vehicle in history.”

• April 30, 2015: Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard suborbital rocket for the first time April 29 on a mission that took the vehicle to the edge of space, but failed to recover a part of the vehicle afterwards. 33)

- The company said that most elements of the vehicle, including its BE-3 main engine developed in-house, performed well. The crew capsule separated from the vehicle’s propulsion module and parachuted back to Earth. “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return,” the company said.

- However, the company said it was unable to recover the propulsion module, which is designed to make a vertical landing using its main engine. “Unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent,” the company said, not going into greater detail about the problem.

- Blue Origin said it had been working to improve the module’s hydraulics system prior to the flight, and will incorporate those changes into future modules. “Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we’ll be ready to fly again soon,” the company said.

- The company, known for its secretive nature, did not announce the test flight in advance. However, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary flight restriction in the airspace above Blue Origin’s Texas test site April 27 for “space flight operations” on April 29.

- FAA officials recently suggested that a test flight was upcoming. “They’ll be flying their reusable launch vehicle in the next couple of weeks. Watch the news for that,” said George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, in an April 21 presentation to the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board here.

- The company did disclose in early April that it had completed development of its BE-3 engine, but offered no timetable for the test flights beyond starting them later this year.

- “We expect a series of dozens of flights over the extent of the test program,” Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said April 7 during a media teleconference about the BE-3. “We expect, over the next couple of years, to be flying regularly with the New Shepard vehicle.”

- lue Origin plans to eventually bring New Shepard into service, offering suborbital flights for space tourism and research applications. While the vehicle can be flown remotely, it is designed to carry three or more people to an altitude of at least 100 kilometers.


Figure 28: The New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site on April 29, 2015. The crew capsule reached an apogee at 93,600 meters before beginning its descent back to Earth (photo credit: Blue Origin)

• April 21, 2015: Blue Origin, the commercial spaceflight company backed by founder Jeff Bezos, will soon start flight tests of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official said April 21. 34)

- George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said at a meeting of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board here April 21 that he expected Blue Origin to begin test flights in a “couple of weeks.”

- “They’ll be flying their reusable launch vehicle in the next couple of weeks. Watch the news for that,” Nield said. He did not provide additional details about those test plans, but praised the company’s “really professional, first-class organization.”

- Blue Origin already possesses an experimental permit from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation that would allow it to carry out test flights. The permit was originally issued by the FAA in February 2014 and revised this February.

- The permit covers “an unlimited number of flights of the New Shepard System” from Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas, approximately 200 kilometers east of El Paso. A copy of the permit posted on the FAA website offers no technical details about the vehicle other than it has separate propulsion and crew modules, which the company has previously disclosed.


2) Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force acquisition chief to meet with ULA and Blue Origin, expects Vulcan to launch in December,” SpaceNews, 28 June 2022, URL:

3) Jeff Foust, ”New Shepard completes fifth crewed suborbital flight,” SpaceNews, 4 June 2022, URL:

4) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin flies six on first New Shepard suborbital flight of 2022,” SpaceNews, 31 March 2022, URL:

5) Sandra Erwin, ”Blue Origin joins U.S. military ‘rocket cargo’ program,” SpaceNews, 29 December 2021, URL:

6) Jeff Foust, ”New launch vehicles face schedule pressure,” SpaceNews, 13 December 2021, URL:

7) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin launches first six-person New Shepard suborbital flight,” SpaceNews, 11 December 2021, URL:

8) ”Blue Origin Completes Third Human Spaceflight,” 11 December 2021, URL:

9) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic select astronauts for future flights,” SpaceNews, 29 November 2021, URL:

10) Sandra Erwin, ”Blue Origin eyes participation in military ‘rocket cargo’ program,” SpaceNews, 20 October 2021, URL:

11) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin launches second crewed New Shepard mission,” SpaceNews, 13 October 2021, URL:

12) Jeff Foust, ”FAA reviewing Blue Origin safety allegations,” SpaceNews, 1 October 2021, URL:

13) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin flies payloads on latest New Shepard flight,” SpaceNews, 26 August 2021, URL:

14) Elizabeth DiVito, ”NASA Technologies Slated for Testing on Blue Origin’s New Shepard,” NASA, 24 August 2021, URL:

15) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin suit stops work on NASA HLS contract with SpaceX,” SpaceNews, 19 August 2021, URL:

16) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin to perform first New Shepard launch under updated license,” SpaceNews, 19 August 2021, URL:

17) Jeff Foust, ”lue Origin sues NASA over Human Landing System contract,” SpaceNews, 16 August 2021, URL:

18) Jeff Foust, ”GAO report details rejection of HLS protests,” SpaceNews, 16 August 2021, URL:

19) Sandra Erwin, ”Tory Bruno says the challenges with BE-4 are real but the engine is moving forward,” SpaceNews, 5 August 2021, URL:

20) Jeff Foust, ”Bezos offers billions in incentives for NASA lunar lander contract,” Space News, 26 July 2021, URL:

21) Jeff Foust, ”New Shepard astronauts rave about suborbital spaceflight experience as Bezos faces backlash,” SpaceNews, 20 July 2021, URL:

22) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin launches Bezos on first crewed New Shepard flight,” SpaceNews, 20 July 2021, URL:

23) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin ready for first crewed New Shepard launch,” SpaceNews, 18 July 2021, URL:

24) Jeff Foust, ”Dutch teenager to fly on New Shepard,” SpaceNews, 15 July 2021, URL:

25) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin donates New Shepard auction proceeds to space nonprofit groups,” SpaceNews, 15 July 2021, URL:

26) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin auctions New Shepard seat for $28 million,” SpaceNews, 12 June 2021, URL:

27) Jeff Foust, ”Bezos to go on first crewed New Shepard flight,” SpaceNews, 7 June 2021, URL:

28) ”Blue Origin announces that Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark will join the auction winner on New Shepard’s first human flight on July 20th,” Blue Origin, 7 June 2021, URL:

29) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin to fly first people on New Shepard in July,” SpaceNews, 5 May 2021, URL:

30) ”Bid For the Very First Seat on New Shepard,” Blue Origin News, 5 May 2021:

31) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin aces dress rehearsal for New Shepard crewed flights,” SpaceNews, 14 April, 2021, URL:

32) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin gearing up for next New Shepard test flight,” SpaceNews, 17 December 2018, URL:

33) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin’s New Shepard Vehicle Makes First Test Flight,” SpaceNews, 30 April 2015, URL:

34) Jeff Foust, ”Blue Origin To Begin Test Flights Within Weeks,” SpaceNews, 21 April 2015, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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