Oct. 13 (UPI) — Blue Origin successfully launched a NASA moon landing experiment aboard the company’s reusable New Shepard rocket Tuesday morning in Texas.
Liftoff took place from the company’s launch facilities about 150 miles east of El Paso.
The capsule separated from the rocket minutes into the flight and spent about three minutes at the height of an arc just over the Kármán line, the altitude at which space begins.
The rocket booster, with NASA sensors mounted on the exterior, landed smoothly about 7 minutes, 30 seconds after launch. The capsule landed with the aid of parachutes a few minutes later, kicking up a cloud of dust and sand.
The NASA experiment is part of the agency’s Tipping Point program, which seeks to demonstrate technology that can be adopted by private industry.
The project includes a collection of sensors designed to help locate a safe site on the moon for upcoming landings, according to NASA and Blue Origin’s mission description. Some of the sensors use LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging technology, which uses laser light to map out the surface.
“A NASA-developed sensor suite could allow robotic and crewed missions to land precisely on the lunar surface within half the distance of a football field,” NASA said of the project. “The rocket’s flight path is relevant to lunar landings, providing a unique opportunity to mature sensors and algorithms for potential use on Artemis [moon] missions.”
Those sensors require clear skies to function properly, which is why the mission had been delayed once in September due to cloudy weather at the launch site. But Tuesday’s weather was ideal, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said.
“It’s a great day for us to actually try that new type of experimentation on the outside of the vehicle,” Smith said during a prelaunch