Blue Origin preparing for first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk

Blue Origin is set to fly a crew of four on board a New Shepard… The post Blue Origin preparing for first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk appeared first on

Blue Origin preparing for first crewed flight with four crew, including founder Jeff Bezos and “Mercury 13” aviatrix Wally Funk

Blue Origin is set to fly a crew of four on board a New Shepard rocket on a 11 minute long suborbital spaceflight. It will be the first time humans fly on board the vehicle, which is making its sixteenth flight since its debut in April 2015.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark will be aboard the crew capsule for the flight, along with 82-year old Wally Funk, who is an accomplished female pilot, instructor, and air accident investigator, and a member of what was unofficially known as the “Mercury 13”, a group of women that passed the same physiological tests to become an astronaut that the male “Mercury 7″ did.

While Wally Funk will become the oldest person ever in space, surpassing John Glenn at age 77, she will be joined by the youngest person ever in space. 18-year old Oliver Daemen, the son of the second highest bidder in the auction for a seat on this flight, will be joining the NS-16 crew after the winning bidder (with a $28 million bid) chose to take a later flight, citing “schedule conflicts.”

New Shepard flight NS-16 is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than 8:00 AM CDT (13:00 UTC) on Tuesday, July 20, from Blue Origin’s suborbital launch facility on the Corn Ranch, a large property purchased by Jeff Bezos, in the desert near Van Horn, Texas.

The Van Horn launch facility is the first entirely private space launch complex to host a crewed flight, compared to Spaceport America which received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the state of New Mexico prior to supporting SpaceShipTwo flights. The NS-16 mission will also fly the first ever paying suborbital space tourist, although paying tourists have flown aboard Soyuz missions to the International Space Station.

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  • The four NS-16 crewmembers stayed in the astronaut village near the launch facility and underwent two days of training before their flight. They were trained on everything they need to know to fly aboard New Shepard, including procedures for off-nominal and emergency situations, and how to use emergency equipment.

    The New Shepard capsule can accommodate six people, but for this flight only four will fly. The Blue Origin hospitality team is hosting the Bezos brothers, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, and two “Crewmember 7” employees (so named as they would help the normal crew of six) have been assigned to the NS-16 crew to assist them.

    The booster, known as Tail 4, will be filled with cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen at T-3 hours before launch, and the crew will board the capsule 45 minutes before liftoff. The Crewmember 7 employees will stay on the ground to assist the four crew members during boarding and the flight, and the countdown will proceed with systems checks and then crew arm retraction around T-2 minutes.

    The New Shepard’s single BE-3 engine, capable of up to 110,000 lbs of thrust, will ignite at T-0 and the launch restraints will be released at T+6 seconds. New Shepard will climb vertically and reach Max Q at T+1 minute and 28,000 feet altitude, and the BE-3 will be cut off at T+2:20, at 178,000 feet altitude and a speed of Mach 3.

    New Shepard lifts off on the NS-15 mission – via Jack Beyer for NSF

    The New Shepard capsule and booster will coast together until capsule separation around T+3 minutes. The capsule will pass the Karman line at 100 kilometers around T+3:45 and reach apogee about 20 seconds later. The NS-16 crew, which will have a view of space and Earth through six large windows, will be able to float in the cabin and experience approximately four minutes of microgravity before they will need to be in their seats for re-entry.

    The booster and capsule will both be traveling slowly enough that they won’t need an extensive amount of heat shielding like an orbital spacecraft would. The booster, after deploying its ring and wedge fins at the top of the stage, will relight its engine, which can deep throttle to 20 percent of its rated power, deploy its landing gear, and hover over its landing pad before touching down around the T+7:30 mark.

    The capsule with the NS-16 crew will deploy its three drogue chutes around 5,000 feet altitude, and the main chutes will deploy around the T+8:45 mark at 2,500 feet. The capsule would touch down at a speed of around 16 miles per hour on the desert floor around the T+10:30 mark after firing a small retrorocket, in a manner similar to the Soyuz capsule before its landing, to cushion the impact of the touchdown.

    The NS-16 crew will be retrieved after a crew drives to the touchdown site and opens the hatch on the capsule. Family members of the crew will be driven to the touchdown site as well to greet the new spacefarers, and a large celebration is planned. The recovery crew will begin the process of safing the capsule before it and the booster are recovered and prepared for its next flight, which Blue Origin hopes will be in the September/October timeframe, as part of its plan to fly two more New Shepard missions in 2021.

    New Shepard Tail 4 after landing during the NS-15 mission – via Blue Origin

    After fifteen successful uncrewed tests of the New Shepard crew capsule and fourteen successful landings of the New Shepard booster, on May 5th, the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s flight into space, Blue Origin announced that flight NS-16 would launch six crewmembers on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

    The announcement of the first human flight of New Shepard was at least fifteen years in the making. Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Amazon founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos, who stated that he wanted to see millions of people living and working in space. New Shepard development started in 2006 and proceeded with the usual delays and challenges inherent in spaceflight projects.

    In 2012 the New Shepard program successfully completed a pad abort test, and test flights of the fully reusable capsule/booster combination began in the spring of 2015. The first flight successfully flew the capsule, but the booster crashed on landing.

    After rework, the second booster, called Tail 2, successfully made test flights in 2015 and 2016 with the capsule going over the FAI’s Karman line at 100 kilometers, marking its designation of space. Tail 2’s last test flight in late 2016 successfully tested the in-flight abort capability of the vehicle, igniting a solid rocket motor placed in the center of the capsule, extending from the floor of the crew cabin to the bottom of the capsule.

    Tail 2 was retired and moved to Blue Origin’s orbital launch system factory at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it stands in the lobby. The next booster, Tail 3, successfully launched on December 12, 2017 along with crew capsule version 2.0, which flew with windows for the first time. Later missions with Tail 3 included flying the instrumented “Mannequin Skywalker” and a number of NASA and commercial experiments, as well as a landing system test for the Artemis program. A successful high altitude abort test was performed as well.

    Jeff Bezos and others inspect the New Shepard Capsule 2.0 following the NS-7 mission – via Blue Origin

    While one booster/capsule combination would remain dedicated for payloads, Tail 4 would become the first New Shepard booster (known as the Propulsion Module) that would be rated for human flight, and the first fully equipped crew capsule that could make tourist flights was built alongside this vehicle. Its first flight was on January 14.

    Tail 4 launched again on April 14, on mission NS-15, which was a dress rehearsal for Tuesday’s crewed flight. Four Blue Origin employees began the boarding process and two of them boarded the crew capsule during the countdown before leaving the ship a few minutes later. NS-15 successfully launched to an altitude of 348,000 feet (106 kilometers) before the booster and capsule touched down successfully. Employees performed an ingress and egress test on the capsule as it lay on the desert floor.

    Three weeks after the NS-15 flight, the crewed NS-16 mission was announced, and Jeff and Mark Bezos were announced as two of the crewmembers who would fly to space. One of the seats was auctioned off afterward, and Wally Funk was named as a crewmember in the meantime as an honored guest of Jeff Bezos.

    As the time for the flight drew closer, Sir Richard Branson announced that he was moving up his own flight to space to July 11 on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which was successfully completed.

    The “billionaire space race” has drawn headlines and controversy. However, Wally Funk’s inclusion in this flight will mark a journey to space that has been sixty years in the making. In 1961, the flight instructor volunteered for the “Women in Space” program that was privately funded by aviatrix Jackie Cochran’s husband and run by Dr. William Lovelace, who had developed the physical and psychological tests that the “Mercury 7” astronauts had completed.

    Dr. Lovelace wanted to know if women could function as astronauts. He invited 25 women to his clinic in New Mexico to take the same tests that the Mercury 7 astronauts did. Twenty women pilots ended up taking the Phase I physical tests and thirteen of them passed, including the first female instructor pilot to operate at a military base, one Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk. The women scored better in a number of areas than the men who had taken these same tests.

    Three of the women, Funk, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, and Rhea Hurrle, made their way to Oklahoma City for Phase II psychological and isolation tank testing. Cobb also passed the Phase III advanced exams using military equipment and jet aircraft, and scored in the top two percent of anyone who had taken all three phases regardless of gender. However, just before Funk and the others were to take part in Phase III tests, the US Navy denied Dr. Lovelace access to the program at the naval air station in Pensacola, Florida.

    Dr. Lovelace was forced to cancel the experiment, dubbed First Lady Astronaut Trainees, as he had run all of the tests he could with his own facilities. Some of the trainees lobbied Congress to allow women into the NASA program and hearings were conducted, but NASA was unwilling to induct women into the program. Cochran herself lobbied against reinstating the program, for reasons that are not entirely clear, and the Moon race had started in earnest, so NASA’s focus was elsewhere.

    The social climate at the time in the US was not conducive to allowing Wally Funk to fulfill her dream of going into space, and it would be a generation before Sally Ride flew on STS-7. In the 1990s most of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees finally met for the first time as they had not been able to train as a group, and they were then dubbed the “Mercury 13.” Now one of their number is on the verge of going to space, at least for a few minutes.

    If all goes well, the New Shepard NS-16 flight, along with the Unity 22 flight earlier this month, will finally mark the beginning of suborbital space tourist flights from U.S. soil, flights that have been promised since the turn of the century, and promise to finally expand the possibility of spaceflight to many that have not yet been able to experience the “overview effect” of seeing Earth from space.

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    Super Heavy Booster 3 fires up for the first time

    Following a rigorous test campaign with the Starship prototype vehicles, SpaceX has turned its immediate… The post Super Heavy Booster 3 fires up for the first time appeared first on

    Super Heavy Booster 3 fires up for the first time

    Following a rigorous test campaign with the Starship prototype vehicles, SpaceX has turned its immediate attention to the booster that will loft its interplanetary spacecraft to new heights.

    Booster 3, the first prototype Super Heavy to roll to the launch site, conducted a three-engine Static Fire test on Monday. The testing at the suborbital site will clear the path for Booster 4 – already being stacked in the High Bay – to take up residence at the Orbital Launch Site (OLS), an area that continues to undergo preparations, including the installation of the final section of the Launch Integration Tower.

    Booster 3:

    Following a July 1 rollout down Highway 4 for installation on suborbital Pad A, Super Heavy’s pad flow has already included all the preparations required ahead of a Static Fire test.

    This ranged from an ambient proof test with nitrogen gas on July 8 ahead of cryoproofing with LN2 on July 12. The latter provided some stunning first-time views of the huge booster’s controlled venting.

    The installation of the Raptors was staggered, with one installed ahead of the cryoproofing, followed by the other two after the test. The three Raptors are RC57, 59, and 62.

    With the pre-firing tests proving successful, there was a slight delay to the expected Static Fire test initially expected last week based on alert notices to local residents such as NSF’s Mary (@bocachicagal).

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  • With Elon Musk noting “Probably Monday,” the latest alert notice received by Mary aligns, with a test window ranging from noon through to 10 pm, local time.

    Booster 3 provides a first-time operation for fueling the huge booster with Liquid Oxygen (LOX) and Liquid Methane (CH4) during the test. How much propellant will be loaded, and the schedule for the sequence was unknown. However, NSF’s Adrian Beil wrote a feature on the expectations based on previous experiences with Starship being applied to Super Heavy.

    Based on those evaluations, it was expected that Super Heavy would also undergo a Starship-like countdown of 45-60 minutes, with fueling beginning in the 30-40 minute range. Engine chill would then follow at T-12 minutes, ahead of the firing.

    As with previous Static Fires, the T-10 minute siren sounded, as per the alert notice to local residents. However, as with Starship, mini-holds can be expected, pushing the ignition time to the right. This proved to be the case on Monday.

    The booster fired up all three engines for the expected duration, confirmed by Musk before he noted that “depending on progress with Booster 4, we might try a 9 engine firing on Booster 3.”

    Once SpaceX completes Booster 3 testing to its satisfaction, its fate is not yet clear. After that, it will be removed from Pad A and rolled back to the Production Site, potentially joining Ship 15 and 16, with the tantalizing potential of the display vehicles being used as a backdrop to Musk’s long-awaited update presentation.

    Ship 15 and 16 hanging out – via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

    The focus will have already moved to Booster 4, which is currently set to launch the orbital test mission.

    However, while that launch is still at least a few months away, stacking of the B4 sections has already begun in the High Bay.

    Additional sections have already been staged outside the production tents, including BN4 AFT 4 and 5, while the impressive Thrust Puck for Booster 5 has already arrived at SpaceX Starbase.

    The staging of hardware has aided the notable production cadence at the Boca Chica site well before assembly. This continues to be the situation for the booster side of production.


    The key element for launching missions with the integrated Super Heavy and Starship stack is the Orbital Launch Site (OLS), which remains a hive of activity.

    The focus over recent weeks has been raising the sections to complete the Launch Integration Tower, which received its eighth and final major section element on Sunday.

    Interestingly, there remain some pieces of the launch tower back at the Production Site that may yet be used to give shape to the top of the tower and house some technical equipment.

    Work on the Tank Farm for the OLS has mostly been focused on rolling cryo shells out to the site, ahead of the installation on the GSE (Ground Support Equipment) tanks.

    Future Starships:

    The OLS will host the first integrated Super Heavy and Starship stack, with Ship 20 currently set to be the first to be mated with a booster.

    The vehicle is undergoing stacking operations inside the Mid Bay, following the usual path for Starship production flow, ahead of receiving its nosecone inside the High Bay.

    As expected, the sections are covered in TPS (Thermal Protection System) tiles on the windward side, tasked with protecting the vehicle during re-entry.

    While the installation of TPS tile patches has been observed on numerous prototypes, the full array of tiles will be debuted with Ship 20.

    This includes the area of the aero surfaces, with a curved installation of TPS observed on an aft flap at the Production Site.

    Again following the impressive production cadence routine of SpaceX Starbase, sections for Starship Ship 21 have already been spotted by Mary (@bocachicagal), as the lack of hops has not resulted in a slow down in shipbuilding.


    All these future vehicles require engines, lots of them. While Raptors have been arriving into Starbase with increasing frequency, supplying the opening salvo of orbital Super Heavy and Starships will require hundreds of flight engines.

    The bulk will be for the boosters, with Super Heavy’s opening 29-engine configuration eventually evolving to a 33-engines on the aft.

    According to Musk, the final thrust will be around 230 tons per engine, with the outer ring being non-gimbal engines and the inner ones providing the steering for launch and landing. This engine setup will mean that the final thrust of the booster will be 74.4MN, which is more than double that of the Saturn V’s thrust of 35.1MN.

    Musk appraised a “very accurate” render by artist Erc X, notably showing the increased-Raptor config would have three central Raptors, with ten in the middle ring, accompanied by a default twenty on the outer ring.

    Further confirmation was received in the differences between sea-level Raptors, with the outer ring Raptor Boost (RB) being without Thrust Vector Control infrastructure compared to the Raptor Center (RC) of the middle and inner-ring, along with no differences in thrust between RB and RC variants as originally anticipated.

    The current supply line for Raptors involves production at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California – before being test-fired at SpaceX’s test site in McGregor, Texas. They then make a short road trip in the “RaptorVan” to Starbase.

    However, Musk noted a new Raptor factory would be built at the McGregor site to cater to the increasing demand for Raptors.

    It appears groundbreaking may have already begun, with a new large patch of ground being cleared, as spotted by NSF’s Gary Blair in photos provided to L2 McGregor.

    Work over the space of a week at a potential Raptor Factory construction spot at SpaceX McGregor via NSF’s Gary Blair.

    With the recent competition of two extra test bays for Raptor, taking the total to five, having Raptors built and tested at the same Texas site, just a few hours drive from Boca Chica will greatly increase the supply of engines required for SpaceX’s ambitious launch schedule for its Starship program.

    With a production goal of 2-4 engines per day, the new McGregor factory will focus on the updated version of Raptor called “Raptor 2.” In addition, Hawthorne would focus on building Raptor Vacuum (RVac) and “new, experimental designs.”

    Photos and videos provided by Mary (@bocachicagal) and Gary Blair. Additional information and article assistance was provided by: Adrian Beil, Evan Packer, Ryan Weber, Justin Davenport, and Alexandre Haas.

    For live updates, follow NASASpaceFlight’s Twitter account and the NSF Starship Forum Sections.

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