Blue Origin moves closer to human spaceflight with 12th New Shepard launch

Jeff Bezos -founded Blue Origin has recorded another successful mission for its New Shepard sub-orbital launch vehicle, which is a key step as it readies the spacecraft for human spaceflight. This is also the six flight of this re-used booster, which is a record for Blue Origin in terms of relying and recovering one of its rocket stages.

This is the ninth time that Blue Origin has flown commercial payloads aboard New Shepard, and each launch moves it one step closer to demonstrating the system’s readiness for carrying crew on board. This launch carried experimental payloads on board that will be used for research, including materials used in student studies. It also had thousands of postcards on board written by students from around the world, which were submitted to the Club for the Future non-profit set up by Blue Origin earlier this year to provide educational resources about space to schools and students.

Blue Origin intends to fly paying space tourists aboard New Shepard eventually, along with other commercial astronauts making the trip for research and other missions. Up to six passengers can fit in Blue Origin’s capsule atop the New Shepard, but we don’t yet know when it’ll actually be carrying anyone on board, either for testing or for commercial flights.

Mindstrong Health hires leadership team with all-star tech product experience

Mindstrong Health is tackling one of the most difficult challenges in healthcare: Severe mental illness, commonly referred to as SMI in the healthcare industry. The startup, founded in 2013 by Paul Dagum, Richard Klausner and Thomas Insel, recently brought on former Uber VP of Product Daniel Graf as CEO, and is now announcing a number of new hires to its senior product leadership team as it moves to turn into an even more compelling and user-friendly product the technology and research it has developed over the past six years.

As mentioned, Graf was Mindstrong Health‘s first high-profile hire this year, when the former Uber, Twitter and Google product leader joined in October. Graf’s turn as the company’s chief executive is his return to the operational side after spending some time away from building product as an investor. He and Mindstrong have brought in four new C-suite execs to lead the company, including a new CPO, COO and CTO, as well as a new VP of Data Science and new VP of Marketing.

The CPO role is the only one Mindstrong can’t yet disclose, but the incoming person has been a product leader at large tech companies, Graf told me in an interview. Meanwhile, the company is revealing that Brandon Trew (ex Uber, Google) will join as COO, Erik Albair (ex Google Maps, DeepMind) will join as CTO, Kane Sweeney (ex Uber, StubHub) comes in as VP of Data Science and Dena Olyaie (ex Facebook, Oscar Health) joins as VP of Marketing.

“The inflection point we’re going through now is really building out the whole foundation,” Graf told me. “If you look at our [current] app, it’s not an app, I would describe us as a consumer and from an experience point of view – it’s a science app. We basically have to build this whole foundation and platform, so for a technology person, for a product person, for a data scientist, for a marketing person, it’s kind of a dream. When you look at the planning stage, you look at the mission, with amazing investors, we don’t really have to worry about investments, and we can build this now. We can build this amazing platform and that’s why all these folks are joining.”

Mindstrong Health’s primary product is a platform that provides remote care on-demand for patients dealing with SMI. This group in particular faces challenges with current healthcare options, because they often face long wait times for appointments with qualified medical professionals, but their issues are pressing, hard to predict and often immediate in nature. Traditional care is also very expensive, and Mindstrong’s model has been shown to drive better results for patients, and to lower cost for insurance companies and other payers. Backed by ARCH Venture Partners, General Catalyst, Bezos Expeditions and more, the company has a number of ongoing trials with healthcare providers and patients, and based on the positive outcomes they’ve seen from this work, the goal now is to refine and prepare the product for commercial use.

Graf’s new leadership team also shares a lot of experience building products that benefit from optimization based on interpretation of large data sets, and that’s also not a coincidence. Part of Mindstrong’s unique approach has been developing a way to quantify SMI issues in a way that makes it possible to anticipate problems based on signals from how a user is interacting with the app, including typing speed an other cues, as compared to an established personal baseline. It’s a big data problem, but instead of solving something like routing on-demand transportation, it’s tackling the issue of delivering reliable, quality care to individuals who are most in need.

Volocopter awarded key designation by European aviation safety regulator

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft maker Volocotper has received a Design Organization Approval (DOA) from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This is basically a recognition by the EU that the processes Volocopter has in place in developing and building its aircraft are of a high enough standard that it can expedite the process of deploying its eVTOLs for commercial use.

That’s a big advantage for Volocopter as it moves forward with its commercialization plans. The German company announced plans this year to produce a cargo version of its vehicle designed for hauling goods, and also revealed it’ll be doing pilot of that vehicle in partnership with John Deere focused on testing its using in agriculture. Meanwhile, it’s also moving ahead with its plans for an ‘air taxi’ version that’s meant to transport people in urban environments.

Volocopter has flown its personal transport with passengers on board in Singapore and Stuttgart so far, in tests designed to help demonstrate its feasibility ahead of a true commercial launch. The company announced a €50 million euro (around $55 million USD) funding round earlier this year, and it hopes to launch its service for the public in around two to three years’ time.

Near Space Labs provides unmatched high-resolution imaging using stratospheric satellites

Imaging is one of the key markets in the emerging space tech industry, and for good reason – there’s a proven and robust demand for imaging and Earth observation data among government, private and other clients. Orbital satellites satisfy some of this demand, and companies like Planet have grown sizeable businesses on building satellites that can provide this kind of data more affordably, but startup Near Space Labs is taking a different approach that provides imaging better suited to certain types of industries and uses.

“We decided to start a company and approach this from a totally new angle, and utilize this gap in aerospace, which is the stratosphere – twice higher than where airliners fly,” said Near Space Labs CEO Remarriages Matevosyan in an interview. “So from that vantage point, we have a very nice view of a very large area, we still can be very high resolution like an airplane or a drone would be, and we can also be very frequent: Currently, we have a daily cadence of imagery, which is unprecedented in this industry at the resolutions that we provide.”

This kind of data is very useful for insurance, real estate and logistics companies, as well as for local municipalities, since it can provide highly relevant and timely data, in the form of very detailed images, quickly. That means you can check progress on a large construction project from an overall perspective, monitor emerging traffic congestion issues or check operational efficiency at a port from a top-down view. Traditional satellites aren’t great at providing this easily and affordably to businesses of all sizes, either because high-resolution optics from that altitude require hugely expensive spacecraft to operate, or because the younger companies working with more affordable satellites can’t achieve the resolution needed from that operating height, or provide data that’s as timely or available on an on-demand basis.

“Our platform is made to be scalable, and it’s made to be easy to launch in areas where people need it,” Matevosyan said. “And that’s an advantage that we have against solutions that aren’t able to be very reactive to say, a disaster. We can easily fly during and after wildfires for example, whereas others [like drones and airplanes] would have a hard time.”

Matevosyan says Near Space Labs can deploy one of its weather balloon-based stratospheric imaging platforms every day, after which it’ll ascend to its operating height and focus on an area taking photographs while aloft for a couple of hours, then come back down and provide immediate access to the resulting high-resolution images. Near Space Labs has developed its own hardware and software in-house, resulting in a proprietary robotic platform that gathers the data it then provides to clients.

In addition to data, Near Space is working on building analytics layers for the photography it gathers to provide its customers with more of a one-stop shop for both imaging and interpretation.

Near Space Labs has investment from Draper Associates, Wireframe Ventures and the Urban-X accelerator run by automaker Mini. Urban-X is focused on companies that help alter the shape of urban living, and Matevosyan says they see very big opportunities in helping municipalities reimagine how their cities operate, given the type and immediacy of imaging they can provide.

Check out this high-res, 33MB version of the featured image above for an idea of how much detail Near Space Labs can capture:

 

Max Q: SpaceX and Rocket Lab launch rockets and X-Wings take flight

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This week saw a ton of activity in the space industry, with multiple launches, key preparations for commercial crew missions, robots and much more.

Besides all the real space news, there’s also some extreme fan service for Star Wars lovers, courtesy of Disney and Boeing. Now I’m one day closer to my lifelong dream of becoming a real X-Wing starfighter pilot.

Rocket Lab completes key step towards reusable rockets

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been successfully delivering payloads to orbit for a while now, but earlier this year they announced they’d be moving to a launch system in which the booster they use to propel their spacecraft to orbit is reusable.

An Electron rocket launching during a previous test.

During their 10th mission with their Electron rocket, they took a crucial first step – testing the re-entry systems to bring the booster back to Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket Lab says the test went better than expected, which bodes well from moving to an actual test of properly recovering and refurbishing the thing.

SpaceX launches 19th Space Station resupply mission

The other big launch this week was SpaceX’s CRS-19 launch, which delivered 5,200 lbs of experiments and supplies to the ISS. This launch used a brand new Falcon 9, which SpaceX recovered with a landing at sea, and it also employed a Dragon cargo capsule that the company has flown twice before. On board, there’s a load of amazing new equipment for the ISS, like a ‘robot hotel.’

Emotionally intelligent IBM-powered assistant robot is heading to space

You may not have heard, but there’s an advanced Alexa for astronauts called CIMON, and after a successful first test, it’s headed back to the ISS aboard the above SpaceX launch with improvements. One of its key improvements is a new ability to detect and respond to human emotions, which is, you know, HAL territory.

SpaceX completes 7th parachute test

SpaceX is getting closer to a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to its ability to launch astronauts on its commercial crew spacecraft. The company needs to do at least 10 parachute tests in a row to get ship-shape for its crew launch, and it’s now pretty close to getting that done before year’s end.

Boeing completes dress rehearsal of crew launch

Boeing is also getting closer to its own commercial crew launch, and in fact completed an entire rehearsal of how the mission will go on on launch day when it does its uncrewed launch. This rehearsal including fully feeling the rocket, and next time that happens, it’ll be taking off.

Real X-Wings fly for real (really)

X-Wing starfighters ascended through the night sky over Orlando, Florida this week as Disney celebrated the opening of its new ‘Rise of the Resistance’ attraction at Disney World. The X-Wings (2 of them!) were modified versions of a large cargo drone that Boeing has been developing, but both companies are keeping mum on any further details right now.

Here’s what’s up in the world of space startups and investing

What’s going on with space tech, and why is it having a moment? What’s coming next, and where is the smart money going? The answers to those questions and more lie in Starburst founder and aerospace investor François Chopard’s informative deck about space and defense, available exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers.

Real X-Wings took flight at Disney’s new Star Wars ride grand opening thanks to Boeing

Boeing might be taking the last crucial steps to prepare for its first crewed Starliner capsule spaceflight, but it’s also busy turning sci-fi into reality right here on Earth – by helping Disney build X-Wing large-scale starfighters to celebrate the opening of the ‘Rise of the Resistance’ ride at Disney World in Florida.

Earlier this week when the ride opened during an evening ceremony, X-Wings “roughly the size of a family van” flew over the event, as described by The Drive, which first identified earlier spy shots of the vehicles as potentially being based on Boeing’s aerial cargo drone. Boeing has since confirmed its involvement, but they aren’t providing more info than that the X-Wings were indeed their aircraft.

In the clip below, you can see the X-Wings ascend vertically into the night sky, then hover and rotate before heading out. Don’t go squinting to see if you can spot Poe Dameron at the controls, however – these are unpiloted drones based mostly likely on the Cargo Air Vehicle design Boeing has recently shown off, which sports six rotors (you can see them in close-ups of the X-Wing included in the gallery at the end of this post).

Astute observers and Star Wars fans will note that the X-Wings feature the split-engine design introduced in the T-70 variant that are flown by the Resistance in the current trilogy, as opposed to the full cylinder engine design on the T-65 from the original trilogy. That makes perfect sense, since the Rise of the Resistance ride takes place during an encounter between the Resistance and the First Order during the current trilogy timeline.

As for Boeing’s CAV, it recently completed a three-minute test flight during which it demonstrated forward movement, after flying outdoors during a hover test for the first time earlier this year. The cargo drone is designed for industrial applications, and can carry up to 500 lbs of cargo, but it’s still in the testing phase, which makes this Star Wars demonstration even more interesting.

[gallery ids="1921346,1921347,1921348,1921349"]

Boeing Starliner crew capsule and Atlas V rocket complete dress rehearsal ahead of test flight

Boeing and launch partner United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed a key step today in pursuit of launching U.S. astronauts aboard their commercial spacecraft. The Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule was atop the ULA Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complext 41 in Florida, with the rocket fully fuelled while the combined crew all took part in a dress rehearsal called the “integrated Day of Launch Test – aka IDOLT because space people all love acronyms so much.

The rehearsal paves the way for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that NASA, ULA and Boeing are targeting for December 20 (which just changed today from December 19), which will be exactly what the first crewed mission aboard the Starliner will be, but without the crew on board. Today’s test involved everything leading up to the actual launch, including real feeling, a launch countdown, preparing and checking the access hatch to the crew capsule and more.

This kind of practice was standard during the days of Shuttle launches, and helps ensure that everyone knows what to do and when, and that more than just knowing, they can demonstrate that it works exactly as it’s supposed in a real-world setting. The full integrated dress rehearsal is especially important, since while you can always drill teams independently, you never know exactly how things are going to work until you run them all together.

As mentioned,d next up is the crucial OFT that will set the stage for a crewed launch early next year. The current target is December 20, so Boeing and its partners should get this in just before year’s end, if all goes to plan.

Boeing Starliner crew capsule and Atlas V rocket complete dress rehearsal ahead of test flight

Boeing and launch partner United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed a key step today in pursuit of launching U.S. astronauts aboard their commercial spacecraft. The Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule was atop the ULA Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complext 41 in Florida, with the rocket fully fuelled while the combined crew all took part in a dress rehearsal called the “integrated Day of Launch Test – aka IDOLT because space people all love acronyms so much.

The rehearsal paves the way for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that NASA, ULA and Boeing are targeting for December 20 (which just changed today from December 19), which will be exactly what the first crewed mission aboard the Starliner will be, but without the crew on board. Today’s test involved everything leading up to the actual launch, including real feeling, a launch countdown, preparing and checking the access hatch to the crew capsule and more.

This kind of practice was standard during the days of Shuttle launches, and helps ensure that everyone knows what to do and when, and that more than just knowing, they can demonstrate that it works exactly as it’s supposed in a real-world setting. The full integrated dress rehearsal is especially important, since while you can always drill teams independently, you never know exactly how things are going to work until you run them all together.

As mentioned,d next up is the crucial OFT that will set the stage for a crewed launch early next year. The current target is December 20, so Boeing and its partners should get this in just before year’s end, if all goes to plan.

This Lego Cybertruck is one even Elon can love

Lego already debuted its own take on the divisive Tesla Cybertruck design, but theirs was purely for the lols. This Lego Cybertruck, however, submitted to the official Lego Ideas crowdsourcing website, is actually a remarkably faithful representation, and comes complete with fully articulating tailgate and “frunk” (front trunk, for the uninitiated).

The design, by Lego Ideas user BrickinNick, recreates remarkably well the throwback polygonal cyberpunk aesthetic of the actual Cybertruck, and BrickinNick says that it could be adapted to have even more moving parts, including opening passenger doors, a slide-out ramp and maybe even a companion Tesla ATV kit so you can replicate the stage demo in even more detail. This would, of course, mean we absolutely must get a minifig Elon, too — and maybe swappable shattered windows.

Lego Ideas allows anyone to create an account and submit their down design, then the community votes on those submissions. Get enough votes and Lego will consider actually producing said design as a kit. Obviously, when there’s IP from other companies involved it’s not a sure thing, but this campaign already has around 2,000 supporters as of this writing, so it’s doing well in the realm of user support.

Love it or hate it, the Cybertruck does make a pretty great Lego design, so here’s hoping this actually one day becomes a shipping kit.

This Lego Cybertruck is one even Elon can love

Lego already debuted its own take on the divisive Tesla Cybertruck design, but theirs was purely for the lols. This Lego Cybertruck, however, submitted to the official Lego Ideas crowdsourcing website, is actually a remarkably faithful representation, and comes complete with fully articulating tailgate and “frunk” (front trunk, for the uninitiated).

The design, by Lego Ideas user BrickinNick, recreates remarkably well the throwback polygonal cyberpunk aesthetic of the actual Cybertruck, and BrickinNick says that it could be adapted to have even more moving parts, including opening passenger doors, a slide-out ramp and maybe even a companion Tesla ATV kit so you can replicate the stage demo in even more detail. This would, of course, mean we absolutely must get a minifig Elon, too — and maybe swappable shattered windows.

Lego Ideas allows anyone to create an account and submit their down design, then the community votes on those submissions. Get enough votes and Lego will consider actually producing said design as a kit. Obviously, when there’s IP from other companies involved it’s not a sure thing, but this campaign already has around 2,000 supporters as of this writing, so it’s doing well in the realm of user support.

Love it or hate it, the Cybertruck does make a pretty great Lego design, so here’s hoping this actually one day becomes a shipping kit.