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NM firm’s WiFi technology takes second suborbital flight

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SolStar team members Charlie Whetsel, left, Terra Shepard, Brian Barnett and Mark Matossian with Blue Origin\’s crew capsule after it landed from a suborbital flight in April. Another flight went up Wednesday. (Courtesy of SolStar Space Co.)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Solstar Space Co. hitched another ride Wednesday morning on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, allowing Solstar to test its space-based WiFi technology in suborbit for the second time since April.
Jeff Bezos’ space company launched the six-passenger rocket from its launchpad in Van Horn, Texas, at 9:10 a.m. with the dummy “Mannequin Skywalker” and a series of scientific experiments in the crew capsule. Among them was the Schmitt Space Communicator, which New Mexico-based Solstar is developing to provide the first commercial WiFi and internet services in space.
The communicator also flew in April on the New Shepard as part of a series of suborbital flight experiments paid for in part by NASA. Like last time, the communicator maintained contact with Solstar’s ground crew throughout the flight, sending a tweet from the crew capsule to the Solstar team once the vehicle reached space.
“It was another major success,” Solstar President and CEO Brian Barnett told the Journal. “We had a pretty good data connection from pre-launch all the way to when it reached space.”
The communicator successfully withstood a jolt that came with Blue Origin’s planned high-altitude safety test during the flight. In that test, the crew capsule separated from the rocket launcher before reaching space. It then fired its own rocket motor to jettison away from the launch vehicle and continue into suborbit, demonstrating the capsule’s instant detach-and-maneuver ability in case of an emergency.
“That was a bit of a rough ride,” Barnett said. “We had programmed the computer to send an onboard tweet as soon as the capsule stabilized, and it worked as planned. We were able to maintain our signal through all the chaos.”
The latest New Shepard launch reached about 74 miles, the highest a Blue Origin rocket has achieved to date and well past the generally accepted 62-mile marker for crossing into space.
Solstar is working to provide internet and phone service in space for companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic when they begin flying paying passengers and experiments into suborbit on reusable rockets. That will enable space tourists and researchers flying on rockets or housed on future space stations to directly communicate with family, friends and colleagues on the ground.
On Wednesday’s flight, Solstar attached a small plaque to its payload emblazoned with “One Albuquerque” in tribute to the company’s hometown, encouraging Mayor Tim Keller to brag about sending a bit of Albuquerque into space.
“Albuquerque has many great, local companies that are on the cutting edge, and Solstar is a shining example of the homegrown innovation we want New Mexico to be known for,” Keller said in a statement after the flight.

 

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