On Thursday morning, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, will launch a suborbital mission with its reusable New Shepard rocket-capsule system to test key technologies with NASA for returning humans to the moon by 2024.
The test will be Blue Origin’s first mission in 2020 since New Shepard’s last flight in December 2019 and the 13th launch in the company’s New Shepard program.
The upcoming flight will carry 12 payloads, including a Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor Demonstration system, which is part of a moon lander Blue Origin is developing for NASA’s Artemis program. The Artemis program aims to fly two American astronauts to the moon by 2024 and establish a base for future visitors by the end of the decade.
“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 explained in a company post on Tuesday. “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.”
Other test payloads on Thursday’s flight will include a system for growing plants in microgravity environments, new tech for protecting electronics from overheating in space, and a system designed to help probes anchor to asteroids and other small celestial bodies.
Like New Shepard’s last flight in December, Thursday’s mission will also carry tens of thousands of postcards collected by students worldwide through Blue Origin’s nonprofit, Club for the Future.
The mission, officially called NS-13, is scheduled to take off at 10 a.m. CDT (11 a.m. EDT) Thursday from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas. Live stream of the event will start on company’s website 30 minutes prior to liftoff featuring a special message from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine about the agency’s collaboration with Blue Origin.
Update: The launch has been delayed to 11:40 a.m. CDT (12:40 p.m. EDT) Thursday due to weather conditions.