To the Final Frontier: NS-18 to shepherd William Shatner, three others to edge of space

Blue Origin is preparing for their second crewed suborbital tourism flight on their New Shepard… The post To the Final Frontier: NS-18 to shepherd William Shatner, three others to edge of space appeared first on

To the Final Frontier: NS-18 to shepherd William Shatner, three others to edge of space

Blue Origin is preparing for their second crewed suborbital tourism flight on their New Shepard capsule and rocket with four passengers, including Star Trek’s William Shatner.

Liftoff of the NS-18 mission is slated for no earlier than 9:00 AM CDT (14:00 UTC) from Blue Origin’s suborbital launch and landing facility north of Van Horn, Texas on Wednesday, October 13.

The mission was originally targeting a launch on Tuesday, October 12; however, unfavorable weather caused Blue Origin to shift the mission by one day per preflight weather assessments.

The suborbital mission will loft four participants inside of the New Shepard capsule to an altitude of approximately 105 km, where they will experience up to five minutes of microgravity.

Exactly how much time will be spent in microgravity is dependent on the ultimate altitude reached by the capsule, which is itself dependent on day-of weather conditions and the day-of performance of the BE-3 engine that powers the New Shepard booster.

The BE-3 engine burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen stored in the New Shepard booster’s propellant tanks. It produces 490 kN (110,000 lbf) of thrust at liftoff, increasing to 710 kN (160,000 lbf) thrust as the rocket ascends into the vacuum of space.

Ignition of the engine occurs at the T-0 mark in the countdown. This is followed by seven seconds of vehicle and engine health checks before New Shepard is released from the pad at the T+7 second mark.

The NS-18 mission will be the second crewed suborbital tourism flight from Blue Origin in the last three months, following crew flight debut on the NS-16 mission on July 20, 2021.

The Passengers

William Shatner

Born March 22, 1931, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, William Shatner is an actor, author, director, producer, screenwriter, and singer who has enjoyed a now 70-year career in the arts and entertainment industry.

His film debut came in 1951 in the Canadian picture “Butler’s Night Off.” He began appearing in roles in American television in the late 1950s and guest-starred in numerous shows throughout the early 1960s.

In 1963, he appeared in the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” in which his character sees something out on the wing of a passenger plane.

In the 1980s, he starred in the main role of police officer T.J. Hooker, and in the late 1990s he guest-starred as The Big Giant Head in the comedy series “3rd Rock From The Sun.” In the 2000s, he portrayed eccentric lawyer Denny Crane for all five seasons of “Boston Legal.”

He is also a No. 1 selling musician, with his album “The Blues” attaining the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Blues Chart in October 2019. 

An avid horse breeder, he raises American Saddlebreds and is active in numerous charities, including the “Horses For Heroes” program for both veterans and wounded service personnel. “The program uses both mounted and un-mounted equine-assisted activities to help in physical and emotional healing,” according to its website.

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  • But it is the role he earned in 1966 for which he is best known and cemented him as a cultural icon: Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Star Trek franchise.

    He appeared in every episode of The Original Series and reprised the role in The Animated Series and seven feature films.

    His last on-screen appearance as Captain Kirk came with the 1994 movie “Star Trek Generations” — though he reprised the role in voiceover form later for the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” various video games and TV commercials, and NASA in 2011.

    For the U.S. space agency, Shatner recorded a paraphrased version of the iconic Star Trek opening monologue to honor the final voyage of the Space Shuttle Discovery. 

    Played for the STS-133 crew on March 7, 2011, Discovery’s final day docked to the International Space Station, the crew were awakened by Shatner’s voice saying: “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

    Now, just more than 55 years after he originated the role of Captain Kirk, a man (and character in Kirk) who inspired multiple generations to become astronauts and scientists and leaders and commanders will finally get his chance to travel to the place that is synonymous with his name.

    William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk during the three-year run of the original Star Trek series. (Credit: NBC Television/Paramount/CBS)

    Speaking to the flight, he said, “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.”

    While he will be the first main cast member of Star Trek to travel to the final frontier, he will not be the first Star Trek actor to do so.

    That honor is held by NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who flew as a Mission Specialist on the STS-47 flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in September 1992 before appearing as a Transporter officer in the Season 6 episode “Second Chances” of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

    Dr. Jemison routinely credited “Star Trek” and Nichelle Nichols — who starred alongside Shatner as Lt. Uhura — as being a role model for her and inspiring her to become an astronaut.

    Two other NASA astronauts, Terry Verts and Mike Finke, appeared in the “Star Trek: Enterprise” episode “These Are The Voyages…” in 2005.

    At 90 years old, William Shatner will become the oldest person to date to travel into space.

    Audrey Powers

    Audrey Powers is Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations and oversees all New Shepard flight operations, vehicle maintenance, and launch, landing, and ground support infrastructure. 

    Audrey Powers. (Credit: Blue Origin)

    She was part of the multi-year process to certify New Shepard for human flight after previously serving as Deputy General Counsel and Vice President of Legal & Compliance for Blue Origin.

    Before her work in legal, she was a guidance and control engineer for almost a decade and served as a flight controller for NASA with 2,000 hours of console time in Mission Control for the International Space Station to her name.

    Powers is a licensed pilot and serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

    “I’m so proud and humbled to fly on behalf of Team Blue, and I’m excited to continue writing Blue’s human spaceflight history,” Audrey said in a statement released by Blue Origin. 

    “I was part of the amazing effort we assembled for New Shepard’s Human Flight Certification Review, a years-long initiative completed in July 2021. As an engineer and lawyer with more than two decades of experience in the aerospace industry, I have great confidence in our New Shepard team and the vehicle we’ve developed.”

    Dr. Chris Boshuizen

    Chris Boshuizen is the co-founder of Planet Labs, where he served as Chief Technology Officer from 2010 to 2015.

    During this time, Planet Labs became the first company to commercially utilize nanosatellites. It now has more than 450 satellites in low Earth orbit that provide daily, global mapping of Earth’s changing surface.

    Dr. Chris Boshuizen. (Credit: Blue Origin)

    After leaving Planet Labs, Dr. Boshuizen served as a Space Mission Architect at NASA’s Ames Research Center from 2008 to 2012. At NASA Ames, he co-invented the NASA Phonesat, a free-flying orbital satellite built out of an ordinary smartphone. 

    While at NASA, he also established Singularity University, a school for studying the consequences of accelerating technological development. 

    He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Sydney, during which he served as the first Executive Director of the Space Generation Advisory Council.

    “This is a fulfillment of my greatest childhood dream,” Dr. Boshuizen said of his flight. “More importantly, though, I see this flight as an opportunity to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and catalyze the next generation of space explorers. After all, our future of life in space is in their very capable hands.” 

    He will be the third Australian to reach space.

    Glen de Vries

    Glen de Vries is the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, the world’s most-used clinical research platform. The platform has enabled more than 25,000 clinical trials with more than seven million patients in areas from vaccines to cancers and rare diseases. 

    He is the Vice-Chair of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Dassault Systèmes, which acquired Medidata in 2019. He is also a Trustee of Carnegie Mellon University, author of “The Patient Equation,” and is an instrument-rated private pilot. 

    “I’ve spent my entire career working to extend people’s lives. However, with limited materials and energy on Earth, extending our reach into space can help humanity continue to thrive,” said de Vries via a statement issued by Blue Origin. 

    “Furthermore, astronauts can experience the ‘overview effect,’ gaining a new perspective on how fragile and precious our planet, those resources, and our civilization are.”

    “Playing a part in advancing the space industry and one day making those resources and that understanding available to everyone is an incredible opportunity. I’ve been passionate about aviation and space for as long as I can remember, so this flight is truly a dream come true.”

    (Lead image: The crew of NS-18. Left to right: Dr. Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, and Glen de Vries. Credit: Blue Origin)

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    Astra completes investigation and schedules next orbital launch attempt

    Astra has completed the investigation into the terminated launch of LV0006 in August 2021. A… The post Astra completes investigation and schedules next orbital launch attempt appeared first on

    Astra completes investigation and schedules next orbital launch attempt

    Astra has completed the investigation into the terminated launch of LV0006 in August 2021. A propellant leak caused an engine failure at liftoff, resulting in insufficient thrust to achieve orbit. Design changes have been implemented to address the anomaly for Astra’s next rocket, LV0007.

    The launch window for LV0007 opens on October 27 and continues through October 31. Additional launch opportunities are available from November 5 to November 12.

    LV0006 Investigation Results

    On August 28, Astra conducted a test flight of Rocket 3.3, the latest version of their small satellite launch vehicle. Designated LV0006, the rocket ignited all five of its Delphin first stage engines and lifted off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska.

    During liftoff, kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen both leaked from the propellant supply system adjacent to the rocket. This system is designed to quickly disconnect and seal when the rocket launches. When LV0006 lifted off, these leaked propellants mixed and became trapped beneath the interface between the rocket and the ground equipment.

    These mixed propellants were subsequently ignited by the exhaust of the first stage engines, which caused an over-pressurization that severed the electrical connection which controls the fuel pump. This caused the shutdown of one Delphin on the first stage less than one second after liftoff.

    This shutdown created an asymmetrical thrust, which caused the vehicle to tip sideways and slide away from the launch pad. The four remaining engines gimballed to straighten the rocket, but with only four engines worth of thrust so early in the flight, reaching orbit was not possible.

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  • After two and a half minutes, the vehicle had cleared the pad, but deviated significantly from its planned trajectory, prompting the termination of thrust on the remaining engines and the end of the flight.

    There were a couple of prior upgrades to the Rocket 3 series which were validated by the flight of LV0006. When LV0005, the one and only Rocket 3.2 to fly, fell just short of achieving orbit in December 2020, a propellant mixture management issue was to blame. For LV0006, Astra implemented closed-loop control of the vehicle’s propellants, and this system performed nominally during launch.

    Additionally, the software loaded into the rocket’s Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) system was updated with new code and algorithms after Rocket 3.2. The GNC system proved its worth with LV0006, correcting for asymmetrical thrust at liftoff and achieving two and a half minutes of flight.

    As with all test flights, a wealth of other thermal and acoustic data was also collected for analysis and future improvements to Astra launch vehicles.

    “Data from the two-and-a-half-minute flight provided valuable insights that we have incorporated into LV0007 and future launch vehicles,” said Chris Kemp, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Astra. “Our team is looking forward to returning to flight and learning more about our launch system – consistent with our launch and learn philosophy.”

    A Delphin first stage engine is hotfired at Astra’s headquarters in Alameda, California – via Astra/John Kraus

    Following the investigation, multiple corrective actions have been taken to prevent this type of anomaly from occurring again. First, the locations of the ground equipment interfaces which feed fuel and oxidizer to the rocket have been moved. Now, even if both propellants do leak, they will no longer mix with one another.

    In order to prevent leaks from developing in the first place, the propellant supply system has been modified and re-qualified. This includes removing the cover which created the confined space which trapped the mixed propellants on LV0006.

    Finally, verification processes for designs and operations were both improved. With the implementation of these changes, Astra is now targeting another orbital launch attempt this month.

    Future Astra launch schedule

    LV0007 is the second Rocket 3.3 vehicle and will make Astra’s next orbital launch attempt. Like Astra’s previous test flights, the mission will be conducted from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska. Also, like LV0006, the mission will carry a test payload for the United States Space Force’s Space Test Program, a mission designated STP-27AD2.

    LV0006 conducts a hotfire test prior to shipment to Kodiak, Alaska, for launch – via Astra

    The launch window for LV0007 consists of two segments. The first stretches from October 27 to October 31, and the second from November 5 to November 12. Should additional time be needed to conduct the launch, Astra would coordinate a new launch window with the range.

    LV0007 will be Astra’s fourth orbital launch attempt, building on two suborbital test flights with Rocket 1 and Rocket 2, a ground failure with Rocket 3.0, and failed orbital launches with Rocket 3.1, 3.2, and the first 3.3 (LV0006). Successfully achieving orbit will set the stage for Astra to begin delivering customer satellites to orbit, including payloads for the US Space Force and NASA.

    While plans are subject to change pending the results of LV0007’s flight, Astra’s Thomas Williams stated during the Small Payload Ride Share Association Symposium this month that the company’s second launch site will debut later this year. Astra is planning to utilize many launch sites, combined with high rocket production cadence, to provide daily access to orbit.

    (Lead photo of LV0006 on the pad in Kodiak –  via Astra)

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