New Shepard rocket launches to test new space technologies
Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard rocket flew its 17th mission, which was dedicated to testing payloads related to the future of space travel and lunar surface missions.
The 59-foot-tall (18-meter-tall) New Shepard launched at 10:31 a.m. EDT (14:31 UTC) Aug. 26, 2021, from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site in Corn Ranch. It was the company’s 17th suborbital mission to date — NS-17. Unlike the last mission on July 20, this flight did not have any people aboard.
The flight lasted about 10.5 minutes and saw the capsule fly to an altitude of roughly 66 miles (106 kilometers) before descending back to the surface under three main parachutes. The booster, New Shepard 3, completed its eighth flight by propulsively landing on a concrete pad just north of its launch site.
Aboard were 18 commercial payloads, including a NASA lunar landing technology demonstration that is designed to assess the precision landing accuracy of the sensors aboard for further development and refinements before using the technology on future Moon landers.
Developed under the Safe and Precise Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution, or SPLICE, project, this is actually the second flight for the technology. This time, the sensor suite is mounted on the exterior of the booster, just under the ring section.
The goal is to test SPLICE’S navigation Doppler lidar and the descent landing computer, which are designed to work in unison to determine a spacecraft’s location and rate of descent toward the Moon’s surface. This is needed in order to target landing sites with varied terrains.
The dataset from information derived from the first flight of the navigation systems on Oct. 13, 2020, were open-sourced by NASA earlier this year. Datasets from this mission are expected to be open-sourced as well in support of U.S. interests in returning to the Moon.
Video courtesy of NASA
The NS-17 mission also featured Suborbital Tryptych, portraits captured by Amoako Boafo, a world-renowned artist from Ghana.
“It is an honor to be invited to a project of this latitude,” said Boafo in a quote on the Uplift Aerospace website. “To create a painting that will launch into space is unimaginable, and frankly surreal. I wish one day to experience what my characters will see.”
The series of three portraits — the artist himself, his mother and a friend’s mother — were painted atop the crew capsule’s main chute covers with the hope of connecting the human experience to spaceflight for everyone.
Additional experiments flown aboard New Shepard were funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program for Carthage College, the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Florida.
The Propellant Mass Gauging in Gateway Architecture Vehicles experiment measures spacecraft propellant tanks in a unique approach in the microgravity of space. Designed by researchers at Carthage College, its aim is to increase the accuracy of measuring propellent levels in space, according to NASA.
“We’ve successfully proven that our technology is superior to the current state of the art in both lab tests and on parabolic flights facilitated by Flight Opportunities,” said principal investigator Kevin Crosby in a NASA news release before the NS-17 flight. “On the upcoming New Shepard flight, we’re going to attempt to prove that we can achieve that same performance during a simulation of on-orbit refueling — and we are much more confident we will achieve our objectives because of our parabolic flight experience.”
A technology from the University of Florida aims to demonstrate “autonomous, high-resolution image data collection” for biological payloads during transitions in gravity levels.
The Southwest Research Institute has a study to demonstrate how liquid/vapor interfaces behave in microgravity.
NASA has an experiment on the spacecraft, OSCAR, which stands for Orbital Syngas/Commodity Augmentation Reactor. It’s purpose is to recycle and repurpose spaceflight waste into useful resources — such as carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane — in order to help improve the quality and sustainability of long-duration human spaceflights, according to the U.S. space agency.
Also aboard were thousands of postcards for Blue Origin’s nonprofit foundation, Club for the Future.
Video courtesy of Blue Origin
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.