Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket — named after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard — from the company's Van Horn, Texas launch facility on October 13, 2020, at 13:36 UTC for its NS-13 mission.
The mission set a rocket reusability record in the process of launching 12 commercial payloads to the edge of space, including a lunar landing sensor test as part of Blue Origin's partnership with NASA, in preparation for the 2024 Artemis program Moon landings.
Blue Origin's rocket reusability record
The launch was a personal milestone for Blue Origin, as well as a new overall spaceflight record. The NS-13 mission was the seventh consecutive flight to space and back for the same rocket — as a point of comparison, SpaceX's record for Falcon 9 reuses stands at six.
New Shepard is powered by a BE-3 engine that generates approximately 110,000 pound-forces of thrust at launch. Blue Origin aims to eventually carry astronauts, and even tourists, aboard the rocket on suborbital flights.
Blue Origin, founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos in the year 2000, had previously attempted to launch the NS-13 mission on September 25, though the launch was aborted prior to liftoff, the company announcing the mission was scrubbed due to "a potential issue with the power supply to the experiments."
A graphic of preliminary readings shown during the live webcast of the NS-13 mission — which can be viewed below — said that the New Shepard's crew capsule reached an apogee of 351,200 feet (107,045 meters) at a max ascent velocity of 2,232 mph (3,592 km/h). The whole mission was over in only 10 minutes and 15 seconds.
Testing lunar landing sensors
As Blue Origin explained in a press release preceding the launch, "New Shepard will fly 12 commercial payloads to space and back on this mission," including the "Deorbit, Descent, and Landing Sensor Demonstration," to prepare for NASA's Artemis program, which aims to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024.
Blue Origin explained that its Moon landing sensor tests "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."
The company says the landing sensors will enable exploration of difficult terrain, via incredibly precise landing accuracy, on future missions to the Moon and Mars.
Also included in the payloads are an experiment to test the ability of plants to grow and survive in microgravity, as well as a test of a new method for attaching small probes to asteroids.
Watch the full live webcast of the record-breaking launch, as it happened, in the video below.