It's strange to the point of scary how little is going on. Going to all my usual hangouts to see what's interesting turned up nothing except things that are months or years out, or things that aren't really noteworthy. Stories like the three companies under contract to launch Kuiper satellites for Amazon pinky-swear they'll do it. "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." Not one of the three launch vehicles has flown yet: Ariane 6, New Glenn or Vulcan Centaur. Does anyone seriously think those launch providers would say anything except that they're preparing to meet their contracts?
Amazon’s 83-launch deal includes 18 Ariane 6 launches, 12 to 27 New Glenn launches and 38 United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur. Credit: Arianespace/Blue Origin/ULA
So what's a space blogger to do? Well, there's a story that isn't very interesting but it isn't as far out in the future as launching the Kuiper constellation. More than a year after an engine failure on a flight of their New Shepard suborbital rocket, Blue Origin has announced plans to resume their tourist flights of the little vehicle.
According to two sources familiar with the company's manifest, however, it appears that Blue Origin is finally getting ready to fly the New Shepard launch system again. The company's tentative plans call for an uncrewed test flight in early October. If all goes well, Blue Origin is planning its first crewed mission since August 4, 2022, to take place in mid-February next year.
The flight that was aborted was one year ago today (probably why there's a followup article) and while Blue didn't impress me as being very public with their failure analysis and corrective actions, I've learned that six months after the incident, the mishap team reported having found "hot streaks" on the rocket engine's nozzle and determined that it was operating at higher temperatures than it was designed for. The company said, "Blue Origin is implementing corrective actions, including design changes to the combustion chamber and operating parameters, which have reduced engine nozzle bulk and hot-streak temperatures."
There's some concern about whether they have hardware to fly for the test early next month - or which vehicle they'll launch. They appear to have only one available which seems to answer which one they're going to fly. The rocket is called Booster 4, although there are some reports that they're working on a new one, presumably incorporating any changes the investigation has prompted.