- Blue Origin, the rocket company owned by Jeff Bezos, is about to launch a test flight to test the new moon landing technology for NASA.
- NASA has developed high-precision sensors, software and a new computer to help spacecraft land in rocky or shady areas of the moon or Mars.
- Pay Blue Origin $ 3 million to test these new technologies.
- If they work according to plan, the landing systems must deliver the company’s New Shepard rocket safely back to Earth on Tuesday.
- You can watch the 12-minute takeoff and landing live.
- Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.
Shepard’s new rocket will take off from the launch site in West Texas at 8:35 a.m. CDT on Tuesday. From there, he must rocket 62 miles in the air – reaching the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space – to briefly expose NASA’s hardware in space. The rocket will also launch a capsule containing cargo for other companies, after which it will descend back to Earth.
If NASA’s sensor systems, computer, and software work according to plan, they must land the rocket safely 12 minutes after launch.
NASA hopes to one day use the new landing systems it is testing to send human missions to the moon, set up a permanent base there and eventually land astronauts on the insidious Martian landscape.
The larger system is called SPLICE, short for Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Development Opportunities. It is designed to help future lunar missions land with better accuracy and safety – no pilot required. It could even allow future spacecraft to land in fields with rocks or shady craters that have so far been considered too dangerous for a safe landing. This ability will open miles from the lunar surface, along with areas on other planets such as Mars.
“Testing of SPLICE suborbital rocket technology extends beyond previous lab tests, helicopter field tests and lower altitude suborbital rocket tests,” said John Carson, who works on precision landing technology at the Johnson Space Center. in a news release from September.
The test flight was originally scheduled for September 24, but Blue Origin wiped it out, citing a power problem. The company also canceled its planned second attempt the next day, saying it needed to “check for a technical problem fix”.
This is the first of two flight tests that Blue Origin will conduct through NASA’s TipA Point program, which has awarded six private companies a total of $ 44 million to help push next-generation technology over the finish line. Blue Origin received $ 3 million for the project, which ended with a test launch on Tuesday. The company also received $ 10 million to test a propulsion system that will use ultra-cold liquid fuels to land a robot on the moon.
New sensors and computers for lunar terrain response
The Blue Origin flight will test only some elements of the SPLICE technology package: two sensor systems, landing algorithms and a new computer.
The first set of sensors aims to help spacecraft navigate the terrain where they could land. The system can allow the lunar landing party to determine its exact location by comparing real-time data from its camera with a set of surface maps previously uploaded to a computer.
The other sensor system, the Doppler lidar, is designed to emit lasers to the planet’s surface and use returning reflections to calculate the spacecraft’s landing speed and altitude. This system is planned to fly on two commercial lunar robotic missions in 2021, including the lander that will transport NASA’s new rover to the moon – the first such landing since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.
NASA designs new technologies so that they can work together or separately, allowing the agency to select the elements needed for specific missions. Blue Origin’s flight will test how the elements work together in a new spacecraft.
“Sensor data is processed by the landing computer,” Carson said. “A lot of other software runs in the background, integrating the different systems, calculating what needs to run next and for this test synchronizing the time with the Blue Origin flight computer. Everything is crucial for the system to work autonomously and provide us with with data that we can analyze after the flight. “
NASA plans to test a third sensor system – which will scan the planet’s surface to detect hazards and select safer landing sites – in future tests.
Here is the Blue Origin live broadcast of the test flight, which will begin airing 30 minutes before launch:
NASA will also broadcast the event in its live broadcast:
Dave Mosher contributed to the reporting.