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Michael Strahan, Alan Shepard’s daughter and four others rocket into space

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STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin’s founder, pins the company’s astronaut wings on Laura Shepard Chesley as Michael Strahan and other crewmates look on. Credit: Blue Origin

Sixty years after her father became the first American in space, Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, rocketed out of the lower atmosphere Saturday, joining ABC TV host Michael Strahan and four others for a thrilling 10-minute climb to space and back.

Strapped into Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, a spacecraft named after her father, Churchley and her fellow passengers blasted off from the company’s West Texas launch site at 10 a.m. EST, shooting skyward atop a hydrogen-fueled single-stage rocket.

The launching came two days later than planned because of high winds aloft, but it was smooth sailing Saturday as the stubby rocket roared away atop a jet of flaming exhaust, accelerating to a maximum velocity of 2,244 mph.

Released from the booster about two minutes and 45 seconds after blastoff, Churchley, Strahan, aerospace entrepreneurs Evan Dick, Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess and his son Cameron were suddenly weightless, free to unstrap and float about the cabin as it coasted upward on a ballistic trajectory.

“Check this out… oh my God!” one of the passengers exclaimed amid laughter and obvious exhilaration, taking in the view of Earth and the black of space through the capsule’s bay windows.

The spacecraft soared to an altitude of 65.8 miles — comfortably above the internationally recognized 62-mile-high “boundary” of space — before arcing over and beginning the long plunge back to Earth after about three minutes of weightlessness.

The reusable booster flew itself back to a pinpoint landing about eight minutes after takeoff. The crew capsule, descending under three large parachutes, followed suit two minutes later, touching down in a cloud of dust to close out a 10-minute 13-second flight.

Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos and recovery personnel were on the scene in minutes to open the hatch and welcome the crew back to Earth.

“Welcome back, guys,” Bezos said after opening the hatch. Strahan was first out, smiling, hugging the Amazon founder and greeting his excited family.

“This is the thing, the Gs, it’s not a face lift, it’s a face drop!” he joked. “I know what I’m going to look like at 85.”

He told Bezos “more people are going to be (drawn to this), it’s going to be hard to get another ticket.”

“You’ve gotta pay for the next one,” Bezos laughed.

The flight mirrored the Freedom 7 mission of Churchley’s father, who rocketed away from Cape Canaveral on May 5, 1961, on a dramatic 15-minute sub-orbital flight to become the first American in space, the second overall after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin beat NASA to the punch three weeks earlier.

Shepard went on to walk on the moon as commander of the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, famously hitting a golf ball during a moonwalk.

Churchley told Bezos she thought about her father’s Mercury flight, tightly strapped into a cramped capsule with a tiny window while she was able to float free of her seat and take in panoramic views of Earth below.

“He didn’t get to enjoy any of what I was (enjoying),” she told Bezos. “He was working.”

“It was all business,” Bezos agreed.

“Right, he had to do it himself. I went along for the ride. … Blue Origin is the best.”

Churchley and Strahan, a retired Hall of Fame professional football player and co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” flew as guests of Blue Origin and Amazon-founder Bezos.

Their four crewmates bought their tickets for undisclosed amounts. Blue Origin does not discuss pricing and so far, no passengers have volunteered any details. But Lane Bess, presumably joking, said after landing, “I’m going to do it again. Get me in line!”

The 19th New Shepard mission — NS-19 — was Blue Origin’s third flight with passengers on board, and the first with a full six-member crew. They called themselves the “Original Six” a play on NASA’s “Original Seven” Mercury astronauts.

Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen took off July 20 on the company’s first piloted New Shepard flight. A second launch on Oct. 13 carried actor William Shatner, a Blue Origin executive and two entrepreneurs to space.

“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” Shatner, on the verge of tears, told Bezos after the flight. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this, I hope that I can maintain what I feel now, I don’t want to lose it.”

Saturday’s NS-19 mission was the 26th crewed sub-orbital flight since Alan Shepard’s pioneering Mercury mission and the 7th in the competition between Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which offers sub-orbital flights aboard a winged spaceplane.

Virgin has launched eight pilots and other company officials, including Branson, on four flights since December 2018 and plans to begin commercial service next year. Blue Origin has now launched three crewed flights carrying 14 passengers, including seven who bought tickets.

With Saturday’s flight, 609 individuals have now flown in space. Of that total, 36 made sub-orbital flights, including six who also flew in orbit, and 41 have flown commercially.

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Weather delays set up SpaceX for two weekend launches from Cape Canaveral

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A Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Friday evening with Italy’s CSG 2 radar satellite. Credit: SpaceX

A blanket of thick clouds over Cape Canaveral Friday forced SpaceX to delay liftoff of a Falcon 9 rocket and an Italian radar remote sensing satellite until Saturday, setting up Florida’s Space Coast for launches on back to back days this weekend, with another SpaceX flight already booked on the range for Sunday.

SpaceX’s planned launch of Italy’s COSMO-SkyMed radar surveillance satellite was originally scheduled Thursday, but rain showers, low visibility, and thick clouds caused officials to call off the launch attempt before loading propellants into the Falcon 9 rocket.

Conditions at Cape Canaveral improved Friday, but a blanket of thick clouds remained in place over the spaceport. SpaceX scrubbed the launch with fewer than 10 minutes left in the countdown.

SpaceX will try again at 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT) Saturday. The Falcon 9 rocket will fly south from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad over the Atlantic Ocean, tracking parallel to Florida’s east coast, then over the Straits of Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean Sea to place the Italian radar imaging satellite into a polar orbit.

The reusable first stage booster, flying for the third time, will return to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral for a propulsive touchdown.

Meanwhile, SpaceX technicians a few miles to the north of pad 40 at Kennedy Space Center prepared late Friday to roll another Falcon 9 rocket out to pad 39A. That rocket is scheduled to take off at 2:39 p.m. EST (1939 GMT) Sunday with another batch of 49 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink internet network.

A backup launch opportunity is available for the Starlink mission at 5:56 p.m. EST (2256 GMT) Sunday).

The target launch times are separated by 20 hours, 28 minutes, which would mark the shortest span between two orbital departures from Florida’s Space Coast since 1967.

As with all rocket launches, SpaceX will only pull off the feat if weather and technology cooperate.

There’s an 80% chance of good weather Saturday evening for SpaceX’s rescheduled launch of an Italian COSMO-SkyMed radar satellite, with a moderate risk of unfavorable winds aloft, according to the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

For Sunday’s mission, forecasters expect a 90% chance of acceptable launch weather on the Space Coast. There’s a moderate risk of out-of-limits wind and sea conditions downrange at the booster’s offshore landing zone near the Bahamas.

The primary weather concern Saturday evening is ground winds, which are forecast to be gusting from the northwest to near 25 mph following the arrival of a strong cold front, causing temperatures to drop to around 45 degrees Fahrenheit by launch time.

On Sunday, the only slight weather issue is with cumulus clouds, which could contribute to a lightning risk as the Falcon 9 climbs through the atmosphere.

SpaceX is slated to follow the launches this weekend with another Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Wednesday, Feb. 2. The Falcon 9 rocket set for launch from California will carry a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.

SpaceX has already launched three Falcon 9 missions since the start of the year, and is on pace to complete six Falcon 9 launches in less than four weeks, assuming the next three flights occur as scheduled.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Live coverage: SpaceX counting down to launch of Italian radar satellite

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Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The mission will launch a radar remote sensing satellite for Italy’s COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation constellation. Follow us on Twitter.

SFN Live



SpaceX Webcast

SpaceX is set to launch an Italian radar remote sensing satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket Thursday from Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch at 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT), weather permitting, and the first stage booster will return to Florida’s Space Coast eight minutes later for landing.

The mission will deploy a COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, or CSG, radar surveillance satellite into a polar orbit for the Italian Space Agency and the Italian Ministry of Defense. There’s a 60% chance of good weather for launch at Cape Canaveral Thursday evening. The primary concerns are with ground winds and cumulus clouds.

The Falcon 9 rocket will be powered by a first stage booster modified from two previous missions as a side booster on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Both halves of the rocket’s payload shroud have flown to space three times on prior Falcon 9 missions.

Our live coverage will be available on this page beginning at 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT).

The COSMO-SkyMed satellites provide regular day-and-night radar imaging of locations around the world for the civilian and military users. The Italian government oversees the radar constellation, which consists of four first-generation satellites now beyond their operating lifetimes, and the first in a new generation of COSMO-SkyMed spacecraft that launched in December 2019 on a Russian Soyuz rocket from French Guiana.

The radar imaging constellation gathers data for use by the Italian military, which employs the imagery to track maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea. Civilian applications include disaster response, agriculture monitoring, and climate change research.

This mission will mark the fifth launch from Cape Canaveral this year, following three SpaceX flights and a United Launch Alliance mission earlier this month.

Read our mission preview story for details.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1052.3)

PAYLOAD: COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: Jan. 27, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT)

LAUNCH WINDOW: Instantaneous

WEATHER FORECAST: 60% probability of acceptable weather

BOOSTER RECOVERY: Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: South-southeast, then south

TARGET ORBIT: Approximately 384 miles (619 kilometers), 97.9 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:15: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:19: Stage separation
  • T+02:27: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:32: Boost-back burn begins (three engines)
  • T+03:20: Boost-back burn ends
  • T+03:45: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:11: First stage entry burn begins (three engines)
  • T+06:32: First stage entry burn ends
  • T+07:22: First stage landing burn begins
  • T+07:26: First stage landing
  • T+08:44: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+56:01: Second stage engine restart
  • T+56:04: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 2)
  • T+1:00:05: COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 138th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 146th launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 3rd launch of Falcon 9 booster B1052
  • 122nd Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 79th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
  • 134th launch overall from pad 40
  • 82nd flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 80th Thales Alenia Space-built satellite launched by SpaceX
  • 1st SpaceX mission for Italian Space Agency
  • 4th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 4th launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 5th orbital launch based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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SpaceX gives converted Falcon Heavy side booster new life

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with a booster stage converted from two previous Falcon Heavy missions, rolls through NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 8 toward its launch pad. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

A converted SpaceX side booster that flew on two Falcon Heavy missions in 2019 will launch again Thursday as the first stage of a single-stick Falcon 9 rocket set to lift off from Cape Canaveral with an Italian radar imaging satellite.

Liftoff is set for 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT) Thursday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida with a COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation radar surveillance satellite for the Italian government.

The first stage booster assigned to the Falcon 9 mission mission is designated B1052 in SpaceX’s fleet. Tracking booster assignments for SpaceX launches has become a pastime for space enthusiasts. But with SpaceX’s rocket reuse program becoming more routine, the first stage used on most Falcon flights has become an afterthought, unless it’s setting a new record.

But the booster awaiting launch Thursday is noteworthy. The 15-story-tall rocket stage was previously fitted with an aerodynamic nose cone and attachment fixtures when it flew as a side booster mounted to the side of a Falcon Heavy core stage on two missions in 2019.

SpaceX created the Falcon Heavy by connecting three modified Falcon 9 booster stages together, tripling the rocket’s total power at liftoff. Each Falcon booster generates 1.7 million pounds of thrust from its nine Merlin engines, giving the Falcon Heavy more than 5 million pounds of thrust, more than any other launch vehicle currently in operation.

A Falcon Heavy rocket, with B1052 as a side booster, launched April 12, 2019, with the Arabsat 6A communications satellite. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

The Falcon Heavy rocket has flown three times, most recently with the Arabsat 6A communications satellite in April 2019 and the U.S. military’s Space Test Program-2 rideshare mission in June 2019. Both missions flew with Booster No. 1052 as a strap-on rocket stage.

The STP-2 mission flew with the same pair of side boosters as Arabsat 6A. On both missions, the side boosters fired more than two minutes during the climb into space, then returned to SpaceX’s rocket recovery zones at Cape Canaveral for nearly simultaneous landings.

SpaceX attempted to recover the Falcon Heavy core stages on both missions aboard a downrange landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean. But both cores were lost, as was the center stage on the first Falcon Heavy demonstration launch in February 2018.

The first Falcon Heavy rocket launched with a pair of side boosters that previously flew as the first stages on Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX modified the boosters for the Falcon Heavy mission, and they landed back at Cape Canaveral and never flew again.

SpaceX officials have said Falcon Heavy side boosters and Falcon 9 first stages are interchangeable, but Falcon Heavy core stages carry additional structural stiffeners to support the load of two side-mounted boosters. That makes each center core specifically built for the Falcon Heavy.

The launch Thursday with Italy’s COSMO-SkyMed radar satellite will be the first time SpaceX has flown a rocket converted in the other direction, from a Falcon Heavy to a Falcon 9. SpaceX’s ground team removed the former side booster’s nose cone and other unique hardware for its new role in the Falcon 9 fleet.

Two reusable rocket boosters, including B1052, land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after the successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket with the Arabsat 6A satellite April 12, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by James Rainier)

Photographers at the Kennedy Space Center’s press site first spotted the converted Falcon first stage Dec. 8 as it passed through the spaceport from SpaceX’s rocket processing hangar on the way to one of the company’s seaside launch pads.

The sighting of the booster’s serial number — the No. 52 is painted in small print on the side of the airframe — suggested SpaceX had modified the former Falcon Heavy side booster for use as a Falcon 9 first stage.

But it wasn’t clear which mission would use the booster until SpaceX confirmed the assignment of B1052 to the COSMO-SkyMed satellite’s launch in a posting to the company’s website Thursday, just hours before the scheduled liftoff time.

Like its previous two flights, the booster will fire for more than two minutes before shutting down its Merlin engines and flipping around to fly back to Cape Canaveral. Touchdown on Landing Zone 1, located about 6 miles (9 kilometers) south of the Complex 40 launch pad, is expected nearly eight minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage — brand new as it is for all Falcon missions — will direct the COSMO-SkyMed satellite along a southerly trajectory parallel to Florida’s east coast, targeting an orbit that takes the spacecraft over Earth’s poles.

It will be SpaceX’s second launch into polar orbit from Cape Canaveral this month, following a corridor that was unused from 1969 until 2020. Most polar orbit launches from the United States take off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, which offers a clear range over the Pacific Ocean to the south, without requiring a rocket to perform a steering maneuver after liftoff to fly around land masses.

SpaceX Booster No. 1052 rolls through NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the way to its launch pad Dec. 8. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The official launch weather forecast for Thursday evening calls for a 60% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The primary weather concerns are with ground winds and cumulus clouds.

The COSMO-SkyMed continues a busy month at Cape Canaveral, which has already hosted four rocket launches since Jan. 6, including three by SpaceX. Another SpaceX launch is scheduled Saturday from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, when a Falcon 9 rocket is set to deliver another batch of Starlink internet satellites into orbit.

SpaceX will continue its rapid-fire launch cadence Feb. 2 with a Falcon 9 mission from Vandenberg for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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