NASA Tipping Point Partnership with Blue Origin to Test Precision Lunar Landing Technologies

by Clare Skelly
NASA Headquarters

WASHINGTON — From the rim of Shackleton crater to permanently shadowed regions on the Moon, a NASA-developed sensor suite could allow robotic and crewed missions to land precisely on the lunar surface within an area about half the size of a football field.

Technologies to enable exact and soft landings on the Moon and other worlds will fly on Blue Origin’s next New Shepard suborbital rocket launch, currently targeted for 11:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 24. The company’s live launch webcast will start at 10:30 a.m. and air on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

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Blue Origin Schedules Next New Shepard Launch for Thursday

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 on May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Next New Shepard Launch Will Test Key Technologies with NASA for Returning to the Moon 

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-13) is currently targeting liftoff for Thursday, September 24, at 10:00 am CDT / 15:00 UTC. Current weather conditions are favorable. This will be the 13th New Shepard mission and the 7th consecutive flight for this particular vehicle (a record), demonstrating its operational reusability. 

You can watch the launch live at BlueOrigin.com. The pre-show begins at T-30 minutes and will provide mission details, including a special update from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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Technology Developed for Lunar Landings Makes Self-Driving Cars Safer on Earth

Electro-Optics Lead Aram Gragossian (left) and Integration Lead Jake Follman configure the electronics within an NDL engineering test unit for remote software testing while in a lab on center at NASA’s Langley Research Center. (Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA is advancing a laser-based technology designed to help spacecraft land on a proverbial dime for missions to the Moon and Mars. The technology will undergo testing on upcoming suborbital rocket launches with Blue Origin on its New Shepard rocket and ride to the Moon on several commercial landers as part of the Artemis program. Simultaneously, companies are using the technology to help self-driving cars navigate rush hour traffic on this planet.

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NASA Technology Enables Precision Landing Without a Pilot

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Margo Pierce
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

Some of the most interesting places to study in our solar system are found in the most inhospitable environments – but landing on any planetary body is already a risky proposition. With NASA planning robotic and crewed missions to new locations on the Moon and Mars, avoiding landing on the steep slope of a crater or in a boulder field is critical to helping ensure a safe touch down for surface exploration of other worlds. In order to improve landing safety, NASA is developing and testing a suite of precise landing and hazard-avoidance technologies.

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National Team Completes System Requirements to Define Integrated Human Landing System Design

The National Team’s engineering mockup of the crew lander vehicle at NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) iconic Building  9. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — The Human Landing System (HLS) National Team, led by Blue Origin with partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper, has completed its System Requirements Review (SRR). SRR is the first program “gated milestone,” which marks the successful baselining of the requirements for the mission, space vehicles, and ground segment. The design proceeded to the NASA Certification Baseline Review (CBR), followed by the lower-level element SRRs, and the preliminary design phase.

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Bolden Says SLS “Will Go Away,” Expects Few Other Changes at NASA if Biden Elected

Charles Bolden

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.

“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”

Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.

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OmegA Rocket Bites the Dust

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Some years ago, I ran into a friend of mine from Northrop Grumman at a conference. Come to think of it, he might have been with pre-acquisition Orbital ATK.

Whatever the case, the subject of the company’s OmegA booster came up.

“It’ll never fly,” he said flatly.

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Uplift Aerospace is Using Rockets in Space as a New Platform for Evolutionary Artwork

MIAMI (Uplift Aerospace PR) — Uplift Aerospace is exploring the limits of evolutionary art by painting commissioned pieces on the exterior of a Blue Origin spacecraft and launching them to space and back on an upcoming New Shepard mission. Internationally renowned artists are collaborating with Uplift Aerospace and the heavens to create this historic artwork.

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U.S. Department of Education Launches CubeSat Mission Challenge for High School Students

Qarman CubeSat deployed from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

CTE Mission: CubeSat Challenge seeks to inspire, prepare students for a future in aerospace

WASHINGTON — Building on the Administration-wide commitment to expand student interest in the booming science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, the U.S. Department of Education today launched CTE Mission: CubeSat, a national challenge to inspire students to build technical skills for careers in space and beyond.

High school students from across the country are invited to design and build CubeSat (cube satellite) prototypes, or satellites that aid in space research, bringing space missions out of the clouds and into the classroom.

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Blue Origin-Led National Team  Delivers  Lunar Lander Engineering Mockup to  NASA

The National Team’s engineering mockup of the crew lander vehicle at NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) iconic Building  9. (Credit: Blue Origin)

HOUSTON (Blue Origin PR) — Today, the Blue Origin-led Human Landing System (HLS) National Team – comprised of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper – delivered an engineering mockup of a crew lander vehicle that could take American astronauts to the Moon. The lander is set up in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF), NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) iconic Building 9.  

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WSJ: Former Top NASA Official Under Criminal Investigation in Lunar Lander Procurement Case

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether a former senior NASA official broke federal procurement law by updating a Boeing official on the status of the company’s bid to develop a human lunar lander.

The grand jury investigation involves communication between NASA’s former head of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, and Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton.

Loverro, who abruptly resigned from NASA in May, is alleged to have improperly told Chilton that Boeing was about to be eliminated from a competition for human landing system development contracts because the company’s bid was deficient

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Shad Canada Brings Space Exploration Online with Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

WATERLOO, Ont. (Shad Canada PR) – Canada’s premier STEAM enrichment program, Shad Canada, is launching a 20-day online program that concludes with a spaceflight competition with Blue Origin. In an unprecedented move to pivot their legacy live-in program in the face of COVID-19 closures, Shad has designed a STEAM program with synchronous online sessions for 600 high school students.

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Langley Researchers Are Shaking Up Lunar Landing Technology

Navigation doppler LIDAR instrument (Credit: NASA)

The Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL) project team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, recently delivered a key component of the instrument to Blue Origin in Kent, Washington, for integration on their New Shepard launch vehicle for an upcoming flight test.

NDL is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program where Blue Origin and NASA are testing a suite of key lunar landing technologies in support of the Artemis Program.

The NDL instrument is comprised of a chassis, containing electro-optic and electronic components, and an optical head with three telescopes. The chassis was delivered to Blue Origin in March, following a virtual pre-ship review after Langley moved into the mandatory telework phase of its COVID-19 response.

The optical head was not delivered at that time because it needed to complete vibration testing to ensure it would be able to survive the launch and flight environments.

Team members continued working remotely, providing virtual support during integration of the NDL chassis at the Blue Origin’s headquarters facility, software support, and planning for a return to onsite work.

In June, members of the NDL team, following stringent health and safety protocols, successfully completed the optical head vibration testing and a pre-ship review to deliver the optical head to Blue Origin.

The optical head is scheduled for integration on to the New Shepard launch vehicle in preparation for an upcoming flight demonstration.

Fiber Optic Sensing System Readied for Space Use

Allen Parker, Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) senior research engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, and Jonathan Lopez show how FOSS in aeronautics is used on a wing to determine its shape and stress on its structure. (Credits: NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will soon test an enhanced system that can take thousands of measurements along a fiber optic wire about the thickness of a human hair for use in space. In the future the technology could monitor spacecraft systems during missions to the Moon and landings on Mars.

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