It’s not just SpaceX that’s been hard at work developing a reusable rocket system.
Blue Origin, set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has also created a rocket that can land upright shortly after launch.
This week its Blue Shepard rocket will be making its first outing since December 2019 in what will be the company’s 13th mission, with this particular booster heading skyward for the seventh consecutive time.
The mission, called NS-13, will see New Shepard fly 12 commercial payloads to suborbital space and back.
One of them, NASA’s “Deorbit, Descent, and Landing Sensor Demonstration,” will be attached to the exterior of the rocket, marking the first time for Blue Origin to send a payload to suborbital space on the outside of the spacecraft rather than inside the capsule.
The lunar landing sensor demonstration will test precision landing technologies for NASA’s planned Artemis mission to the moon in 2024 aimed at putting the first woman and next man on the lunar surface.
“The experiment will verify how these technologies (sensors, computers, and algorithms) work together to determine a spacecraft’s location and speed as it approaches the moon, enabling a vehicle to land autonomously on the lunar surface within 100 meters of a designated point,” Blue Origin said in its mission notes. “The technologies could allow future missions — both crewed and robotic — to target landing sites that weren’t possible during the Apollo missions, such as regions with varied terrain near craters. Achieving high accuracy landing will enable long-term lunar exploration and future Mars missions.”
Other payloads include an autonomous plant growth system from Space Lab Technologies, embedded cooling technology for power-dense spacecraft electronics from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and technology to enable probes to attach to asteroids, built by the Southwest Research Institute.
How to watch
Blue Origin rarely livestreams its launches, so catch this one while you can. After launch, be sure to wait around for the booster landing back on terra firma a short while later, as well as the return of the capsule as it floats back to Earth with parachutes.
The mission is scheduled to get underway from its West Texas launch site at 8 a.m. PT on Thursday, September 24.
You’ll be able to watch it using the embedded player at the top of this page, or by visiting NASA’s YouTube channel.
Current weather conditions are favorable, but we still recommend you keep an eye on Blue Origin’s social feeds at Facebook and Twitter for any last-minute changes to the schedule. We’ll also update this article if anything changes.