Blue Origin has taken some serious steps of late to stay in the commercial space game! Ever since founder Jeff Bezos decided to step down as CEO of Amazon to focus on this brainchild of his, the company has been shaking things up and forging on ahead, hoping to become one of the most competitive and lucrative privately-owned launch services in the world. From the launchpad to the courtroom, they are making their presence felt.

Earlier today, the company completed its 17th mission (NS-17) with the New Shepard launch vehicle, a reusable vertical-takeoff and vertical-landing (VTOL) crew-rated launch vehicle designed to bring small payloads and crews to suborbital altitudes and back again safely. This was also the 8th consecutive time this particular vehicle successfully launched and returned to Earth while carrying some interesting science experiments.

As Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in a press release issued at 9:45 AM CDT (10:45 AM EDT; 07:45 AM PDT), shortly after the successful conclusion of the mission:

“After flying more than 100 payloads to space on New Shepard, today’s 8th flight of this vehicle carried NASA-sponsored and commercial experiments, including the second flight of NASA’s lunar landing technology that will one day allow us to further explore the Moon’s surface. We are grateful to NASA for partnering with us once again on this experiment, and we are proud of the Blue Origin team for executing a great flight in support of all our customers.”

The payloads for this mission included the Deorbit, Descent, and Landing (DDL) Sensor Demonstration, which flew with Blue Origin as part of a NASA Tipping Point partnership supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. This was the second time the DDL technology demonstrator flew on the exterior of New Shepard’s booster, testing technology designed to achieve precision lunar landings without a pilot.

The purpose of this experiment is to validate technologies that will allow for resupply missions to the lunar surface using rapid automated vehicles. Another important payload was the Modal Propellant Gauging (MPG) experiment designed by principal investigator Dr. Kevin Crosby – who is also the Director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium – and his team from Carthage College.

By refining PSM technology, which measures fluid mass under varying pressure conditions (caused by weightlessness and microgravity), researchers aim to increase the accuracy of propellant measuring in space. This is critical to mission performance, especially during engine burns and during the late stages. There was also the Orbital Syngas/Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR) Trash-to-Gas payload, which processes trash samples into useable gases.

These include carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane, which could create water, oxygen gas, or even propellants. The technology has the potential to reduce launch mass and the volume and mass of trash on long-duration missions and promote human space exploration. Other experiments include the Biological Imaging in Support of Suborbital Science (BISSS) provided by the University of Florida that further tested the calibration of data collection for biological experiments.

Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo holding the panel that carried his art to space. Credit: Blue Origin

There were also the Liquid Acquisition Device (LAD-3) provided by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) that demonstrates how liquid/vapor interfaces behave in microgravity – which has possible applications for cryogenic propellant storage. Ordinarily, evaluating these technologies would involve sending them aboard a parabolic flight (aka. the “vomit comet”), but the New Shepard can do the same thanks to its flight profile.

As always, this consists of the booster flying towards the Kármán Line, the official boundary of space – which corresponds to an altitude of over 100 km (62 mi). The capsule is then released, and the crew and/or cargo spend the next few minutes experiencing weightlessness before the descent begins, whereupon the capsule will deploy its landing chutes and make a soft landing.

On this flight, the NS-17 mission