Update 12:12PM ET: According to NASA, Blue Origin detected “a potential issue with the power supply to the experiments,” so today’s launch has been scrubbed. No word yet on a new target date.
Blue Origin is set to launch its reusable New Shepard rocket on a suborbital mission today (September 24th) and test sensors for a vehicle that could one day land on the Moon. The NS-13 mission, using a rocket that has already flown six times in a row, is scheduled to fly at 11AM EDT from Blue Origin’s West Texas base.
New Shepard will fly 12 commercial payloads on the exterior of the booster rather than inside the capsule as it has done so far. It will launch to suborbital space at a distance of about 62 miles, then return with the payloads and land.
The main payload will be the SPLICE (Safe and Precise Landing — Integrated Capabilities Evolution) technologies developed by NASA and partners for future Moon and Mars missions. NASA will test two of the three sensors, including a “terrain relative navigation” system that can determine the rocket’s position by comparing camera images to pre-loaded surface maps. The second system is a navigation Doppler LiDAR that will allow for precise, soft landings. Together, they’ll help NASA make automated landings on the moon, even in tight spots near craters or hills.
While some of the sensors have flown before individually, this is the first time that two of the systems will be tested at once in sub-orbital space. “Testing SPLICE technologies on a suborbital rocket expands the envelope beyond previous lab tests, helicopter field tests, and lower-altitude suborbital rocket tests,” said NASA manager John Carson. “We will get more data about the system to anchor analyses and models and support follow-on adjustments, testing, and development.”
Update 9/24/2020 10:46 AM ET: The launch has been moved forward from 11 AM ET today and is now scheduled for 12:40 PM ET.