Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, today completed its first launch mission in 2020, launching a New Shepard suborbital rocket from a test facility in West Texas. Including today, the special rocket flew seven times and was the 13th flight of the new Shepard aircraft as a whole.
Today’s launch includes testing of NASA’s Active Landing Sensor System, which will be used to build autonomous, accurate and flexible landing systems for future craft landing vehicles.
NASA’s landing system test is also the first for Blue Origin – the first time Blue Origin has tested a flight payload outside the New Shepard. So far, all new Shepard payloads have been placed in the capsule at the top of the booster, but external testing is necessary to facilitate measurement testing of instruments that will be used to provide repeatable, accurate landing capabilities for future spacecraft.
Although NASA has previously been able to land on the moon’s surface, it is seeking to upgrade its technology for landing so that it can handle this challenging mission in a fully automated manner and to achieve very specific goals on the lunar surface with greater precision — and to provide the spacecraft with repeatable and reliable capabilities, as NASA’s Artemis next-generation lunar mission aims to establish a longer-term human research presence on our large natural satellites.
The capsule is also carrying experiments, starting with a soft landing back to Earth with parachute assistance, and a new thermal shield used on the rocket as part of future tests of the New Glenn flight. Blue Origin’s next-generation spacecraft will be able to handle orbital payload launches and enhance suborbital capabilities.