Blue Origin has conducted yet another test launch of its New Shepard reusable rocket, designed to send space tourists. As with past New Shepard test flights, the launch took place without a crew, but with a NASA research payload on board.
This was the thirteenth launch in the New Shepard program and the seventh for this particular rocket. However, it should be noted that there is a long break in the program. The previous launch of the same rocket was successfully completed in December 2019. The next test start was planned for April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had to be postponed to the end of September. In September, the launch also had to be postponed due to problems with the power supply. And now, finally, the launch has taken place.
Typically, the research equipment payload is located inside the New Shepard crew capsule located atop the rocket. But this time, NASA’s experimental equipment was housed outside the rocket. SPLICE (Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution) is equipped with sensors, hardware and software developed by NASA. It is designed to help future manned and robotic spacecraft land on the moon. During the New Shepard flight, NASA experts evaluated how well this technology works when a rocket flies into space and then tries to softly land back to Earth.
NASA says the New Shepard flight profile provides an excellent testing ground for lunar landing technologies. The rocket takes off vertically, rises to an altitude of about 100 km, where microgravity conditions are observed. Similarly, lunar craft experience microgravity before landing on the moon. Upon reaching space, the crew capsule separates from the rest of the rocket and both vehicles descend back to Earth. The crew capsule descends smoothly thanks to the parachute system, and the rocket reactivates the engine to land in an upright position. Lunar craft also use similar lunar landing techniques, using inboard engines to slow down and land softly on the lunar surface. In this way, SPLICE software and tools can help future crewed lander more accurately land on target areas of the moon. In fact, this instrument could be useful for its own lunar apparatus Blue Origin (Blue Moon), which the company is developing for NASA’s Artemis program.
The New Shepard rocket was successfully launched on October 13 at 9:36 am ET (4:36 pm Kiev time). The rocket climbed to an altitude of about 66 miles (about 106 km). Then the rocket and capsule returned safely to Earth.
Source: The Verge