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NASA to Test Sensors for Precision Moon Landings on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
June 3, 2019
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Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

NASA Contract Award
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia

Blue Origin, LLC
Kent, Washington
Amount: $1,301,743


The work will include the integration of NASA developed technology into Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle, providing opportunities to mature critical sensor technology and algorithms that enable precision and soft landing. Testing will be performed at approximately 100 km altitude on-board the flight proven New Shepard vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) suborbital vehicle.

Blue Origin and NASA will use the flight data to anchor analyses and models and support follow-on ground-based algorithm testing and development. The NASA-developed sensor suite will enable Blue Moon to precisely land anywhere on the lunar surface, from the equator to the poles, from the rim of Shackleton crater to permanently shadowed regions, from the far side locations on the South Pole/Aitken basin to lunar lava tubes.

This contract addresses three high-level technology objectives:

1. Demonstrate the performance of NASA-developed precision landing sensor and processing technology (including, but not limited to, Descent Landing Computer (DLC), Navigation Doppler Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR, NDL) and Landing Vision System (LVS) in an operating envelope (altitude, velocity, and vehicle environments) from space environments through soft propulsive landing operations on a commercial vehicle (the New Shepard Propulsion Module).

2. Demonstrate a commercial guidance and navigation system for safe and accurate lunar landings using NASA-developed Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) and Hazard Detection and Avoidance (HDA) algorithms as part of a Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) simulation environment.

3. Develop and demonstrate a Flash LiDAR (FL) prototype for hazard detection derived from NASA-developed Flash LiDAR sensor design.