Blue Origin begins experiments, and Texas artists create artwork

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Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ rocket business, launched the 17th mission of its New Shepard rocket from Texas on Thursday morning, carrying artwork and experiments for NASA and colleges.

According to a Blue Origin speaker, the NS-17 mission blasted off at 10:31 a.m. EDT from the company’s launch facility about 150 miles east of El Paso after a roughly hour delay owing to an issue with one of the experiments on board.

“You can see on your screen, we’re gaining speed as New Shepard lifts off toward space … look at her go!” Blue Origin’s Jacki Cortese said during a live broadcast.

The 60-foot-high rocket emitted 110,000 pounds of thrust as it soared 65 miles above the desert past the Kármán line, an international definition of space. Its top speed during ascent was 2,229 mph, according to the company.

It’s the same type of rocket and same flight profile that Bezos and three passengers rode to space July 20.

Both the reusable booster and the capsule touched down successfully within about 10 minutes after launch.

The NASA experiment on the rocket, called the Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor Demonstration, included sensors to help locate a safe site on the moon for upcoming landings, John Carson, a chief engineer at NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an interview.

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Thursday’s flight was the second time the NASA landing sensors fly on a New Shepard rocket, following a similar demonstration in September. New software changes on apparatus could reduce error in future landings on the moon or interplanetary bodies, Carson said.

The changes also could “enable very efficient hazard avoidance maneuvers during final descent to touchdown,” he said.

The University of Florida’s Space Plants Lab flew plant material on the mission to examine its cellular response to microgravity the rocket’s capsule will experience for a few minutes.

Also on board was an experiment designed with NASA by students and faculty at Carthage College in southern Wisconsin. Known as the Modal Propellant Gauging Experiment, it will monitor new ways to measure levels of propellant, or fuel, in spacecraft during microgravity.

An art installation flew on the exterior of the capsule. It’s a painting titled Suborbital Triptych, which is a series of three portraits by Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo painted atop the crew capsule on the main parachute covers. The portraits capture the artist, his mother and a friend’s mother.

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“To create a painting that will launch into space is unimaginable, and frankly surreal. I wish one day to experience what my characters will see,” Boafo said of the launch.

The sponsor of the artwork installation is Utah-based Uplift Aerospace, a company that said it is “pioneering revolutionary systems to manufacture, trade and deliver products for a multiplanetary economy while strengthening humanity’s connection with the universe.”

The art project is intended to “inspire new ideas and generate dialogue by making space accessible and connected to human experiences,” Josh Hanes, CEO of Uplift Aerospace, said in a new release.


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