Blue Origin New Shepard Launch to Test NASA Moon Landing Sensors

NASA lunar lander technology will be launched aboard the next Blue Origin flight.
NASA’s Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) technology suite installed to the upper section of a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket | Image credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin has scheduled the launch of its next New Shepard mission (NS-13) for Thursday 24 September. The mission will carry several commercial payloads including a suite of sensors developed by NASA to assist crewed and robotic lunar landers to touch down accurately.

The New Shepard NS-13 flight will be launched at 15:00 UTC on September 24 from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. The launch will be the first since December 2019, the longest spell between flights in several years.

In addition to 11 other commercial payloads that will be launched aboard the reusable suborbital rocket, NS-13 will carry NASA’s Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) technology suite.

The agency developed SPLICE to allow both robotic and crew missions to land within half a football field of a predetermined landing zone on the surface of the Moon. The sensor suite was installed to the upper section of the New Shepard booster in preparation for the flight.

On launch day, the suborbital rocket will climb to its maximum altitude of approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles). Once clear of Earth’s atmosphere, SPLICE will be tested in the microgravity and vacuum of space. The capsule will then be separated from the booster which will descend vertically back down to Earth.

In preparation for a soft touchdown, the rocket will make use of two SPLICE sensor suites. The first set of sensors utilizes an inertial measurement unit and a camera to determine the rocket’s exact location. The Navigation Doppler Lidar will then take over to enable the rocket to make a precise soft landing.

The SPLICE mission is one of two awarded to Blue Origin under the agency’s Tipping Point partnership in 2019. The agency utilises Tipping Point contracts to foster and develop commercial space capabilities that will benefit future NASA missions.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.