Spaceflight Insider

NanoRacks partners with Blue Origin for suborbital research flights

NanoRacks announced on Thursday, July 16, that it is joining with Blue Origin to provide customer support and payload integration for suborbital research and educational payloads. Blue Origin conducted the first development test flight of its New Shepard space vehicle on April 29, 2015. The two companies expect to begin conducting suborbital research flights in 2016.

This graphic shows the specifications of standardized research payload lockers . Image Credit: NanoRacks/Blue Origin

This graphic shows the specifications of standardized research payload lockers . Image Credit: NanoRacks/Blue Origin

Over the last five years, NanoRacks has successfully integrated more than 250 payloads that were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a variety of spacecraft. NanoRacks has also launched a number of Cubesats into low-Earth orbit using its CubeSat launcher aboard the ISS. The company now plans to provide seamless customer support and integration for suborbital flights.

Some clients may want to test flight hardware or an experiment on a suborbital flight before sending it into orbit. For other research or educational applications, a suborbital flight alone may be sufficient. Suborbital flights offer a large and diverse sampling of microgravity exposures over short periods of time.

NanoRacks will have two sizes of payload lockers for suborbital research payloads. The Single Size Locker will accommodate a payload weighing up to 25 pounds (11.34 kg), and the Double Size Locker can carry up to 50 pounds (22.68 kg). Both sizes of locker will have electrical power and data storage capabilities. Blue Origin software is available to configure experiment command sequences, such as turning on sensors and other experiment apparatus when they reach the microgravity environment.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard system is intended to be a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle. The system consists of a pressurized capsule atop a booster stage. The booster is powered by Blue Origin’s BE-3 liquid hydrogen-fueled engine, which produces 110,000 lbf (489.3 kN) of thrust.

The combined vehicles will launch vertically and accelerate for approximately two and a half minutes. After the engine cutoff, the capsule separates from the booster and coasts into space. The booster will free-fall for a few minutes before performing an autonomously controlled rocket-powered descent and landing. The capsule will deploy parachutes and make a soft landing.

“These are exciting times for democratizing the access to space. All of us at NanoRacks and Blue Origin look forward to taking space utilization and exploration to a whole new level of reward and excitement,” said Jeff Manber, Chief Executive Officer of NanoRacks.

Video courtesy of Blue Origin



Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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