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Watch live: Alan Shepard’s daughter, Micheal Strahan among six launching to space Saturday

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STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Sixty years after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space, his oldest daughter plans to blast off Saturday on a sub-orbital flight of her own, joining former NFL star and TV host Michael Strahan, two entrepreneurs and a father-and-son duo aboard a Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft.

“It’s kind of fun for me to say an original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard,” Laura Shepard Churchley said in a video tweeted by Blue Origin.

“I’m very proud of my father’s legacy,” she added. “He was the first American in space and the fifth man on the moon and so far, has been the only man to play golf on the moon. I believe he would say the same thing as my children: Go for it, Laura.”

Blastoff from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site, near the small town of Van Horn, is currently targeted for 9:45 a.m. EST Saturday, weather permitting. The flight was originally scheduled for Thursday but was postponed due to high winds.

If all goes well, the New Shepard rocket will propel the passengers to an altitude of just above 62 miles, the internationally recognized “boundary” between the discernible atmosphere and space.

The six crew members will enjoy three to four minutes of weightlessness — and jaw-dropping views — before a parachute descent to Earth to close out a 10-minute up-and-down flight.

The 19th New Shepard mission — NS-19 — will be Blue Origin’s third flight with passengers on board, and the first with a full six-member crew. Blue Origin owner Jeff 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 such flight.

Churchley and Strahan, a retired Hall of Fame professional football player and co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are flying as guests of Blue Origin. Their four crewmates — Lane Bess and his son, Cameron, Evan Dick and Dylan Taylor — bought their tickets for undisclosed amounts.

As might be expected, Strahan is the “star” of New Shepard flight 19, while Churchley’s quest to follow in her father’s footsteps is generating widespread interest among space enthusiasts and history buffs.

Alan Shepard, one of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, became the first American to fly in space when he blasted off on May 5, 1961, three weeks after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin rocketed into history as the first human to reach orbit. 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.

In an interview on “Good Morning America,” Strahan asked Churchley what she was most excited about.

“I’m excited to kind of be following in my father’s footsteps, for starters,” she said. “And I’m excited just to go up into space to see what it all looks like. I’ve been looking at stars with my father forever, and now we’re all going to get really close. And it’s just going to be thrilling.”

Blue Origin will launch a full crew of six to the edge of space aboard the company’s New Shepard sub-orbital spacecraft Saturday (left to right): Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess and his son Cameron, Laura Shepard Churchley, TV personality Michael Strahan and Evan Dick. Credit: Blue Origin

he other crew members are relative unknowns on the public stage, although Taylor is an active and widely respected space investor and enthusiast.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Bess, founder of Bess Ventures and Advisory, a fund that invests in high-technology startups, said he anticipates a “Zen moment” as he soars out of the atmosphere.

“We deal with COVID, political unrest and even the challenges of a business career,” he told the Herald. “But when you look at the bigger perspective, you hopefully get this appreciation: How much do these things matter in the longer scheme of our planet and life and where we come from? … I will have the picture of the view that I’ll have looking out the window in my mind for the rest of my life.”

Taylor, one of the world’s most active private space investors and a co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said on his web page he never dreamed, while growing up in rural Idaho, that he might one day fly in space himself.

“I thought spaceflight was a possibility that only a handful of astronauts could achieve, and I could have never imagined that would someday include me,” he wrote in a blog post.

“To be one of just 600 humans to (travel) into space since the beginning of time? How could this even be possible? What an extraordinary privilege. But as many of us believe, with great privilege comes great responsibility.”

He said he planned to donate the price he paid for a ticket to multiple charities and encouraged other commercial space travelers to do the same. He calls it “buy one, give one.”

“It is simple, donate to worthy causes here on Earth the equivalent of the ticket price for the spaceflight,” he wrote. “Commercial astronauts are predicted to spend several hundred million dollars in the next five years. The impact that cohort could have here on Earth if they all supported this initiative could be very substantial.”

Competition for private spaceflight

The NS-19 mission marks the seventh piloted commercial, non-government sub-orbital spaceflight in a high-stakes competition between Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, owned by fellow billionaire Richard Branson.

Virgin has launched four piloted flights of its winged spaceplane VSS Unity, most recently sending up Branson, two pilots and three company crewmates on July 11. It’s not clear when the company will stage its next flight, but three researchers will be on board representing the Italian air force. Commercial passenger flights are expected to begin next year.

Blue Origin followed up the Bezos flight by launching a suite of NASA experiments on an unpiloted mission August 26. Then, on October 13, actor William Shatner — Captain Kirk of “Star Trek” fame — and three crewmates were launched on the company’s 18th flight overall and the second with passengers aboard.

“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” he told Bezos, on the verge of tears, 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.

“It’s so, so much larger than the me and life. It hasn’t got anything to do with a little green planet, a blue orb, it has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death. Oh my God.”

This diagram illustrates the flight profile for a typical New Shepard launch and landing. Credit: Blue Origin

As celebrity endorsements go, Shatner’s flight and his post-landing comments were in a class by themselves and no doubt music to the ears of Bezos as he battles Branson and Virgin Galactic for market share in the growing commercial space marketplace

Branson won the commercial sub-orbital space race in 2018 when his company launched its first piloted test flight above 50 miles, the boundary of space recognized by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.

While Branson’s July 11 sub-orbital hop was Virgin’s fourth carrying pilots, it was the first with a full six-person crew and the first with the company owner on board.

Branson announced his flight after Bezos had already selected his July 20 launch date, upstaging the Amazon founder and grabbing headlines in the battle to sell a product — spaceflight — as a for-profit enterprise.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said before his flight. “After more than 16 years of research, engineering and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.”

New Shepard’s path to space

Unlike Virgin’s VSS Unity spaceplane, which is launched from a carrier jet and glides to a runway landing after a brief visit to the lower edge of space, Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a much more traditional rocket and capsule.

In a little more than two minutes, the single-stage booster propels the capsule and its crew straight up to an altitude of about 32 miles and a velocity of some 2,200 mph before main engine shutdown.

Less than 30 seconds later, at an altitude of about 45 miles, the crew capsule is released to fly on its own.

While the reusable booster heads back to landing on a nearby pad, the crew capsule continues upward on an unpowered, ballistic trajectory, reaching a maximum altitude of just above 62 miles three-and-a-half minutes after takeoff.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), an international body based in Switzerland that certifies aerospace records, considers an altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, as the dividing line between the discernible atmosphere and space.

NASA and the FAA say 50 miles is the point where wings and aerosurfaces no longer have any effect on a vehicle’s motion and thus defines the starting point of “space.” Virgin Galactic uses that guideline while Blue Origin meets both standards.

In any case, approaching the top of the trajectory, Churchley, Strahan and their crewmates will experience about three minutes of weightlessness, enough time to unstrap and float about the cabin while enjoying spectacular views of Earth through six windows more than a three feet tall and nearly two-and-a-half feet wide.

Plunging back into the lower atmosphere, the capsule will rapidly decelerate, briefly subjecting the passengers to more than five times the normal force of gravity, before three large parachutes unfurl, lowering the craft to a gentle touchdown a few miles from the launch pad.

From liftoff to landing: about 10 minutes. Virgin passengers enjoy a longer flight, about 90 minutes from carrier jet takeoff to spaceplane landing, but the time spent “in space” is roughly the same.

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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.

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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.

Source: Space

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