The US space agency is looking to take advantage of new testing capabilities in the company’s reusable suborbital rocket system, dubbed New Shepard (pictured).
Currently, Nasa says, it can approximate the Moon’s gravity on parabolic flights and in centrifuges on suborbital vehicles as part of it development and testing. These methods, however, can only provide seconds of lunar gravity exposure at one go. Limits on payload size are also an issue.
These factors have compelled it to explore longer-duration and larger size options, and Nasa says Blue Origin’s new lunar gravity testing capability answer those needs.
New Shepard’s upgrades, for example, will allow the vehicle to use its reaction control system to impart a rotation on the capsule. As a result, the entire capsule essentially acts as a large centrifuge to create artificial gravity environments for the payloads inside.
Blue Origin’s first flight of this capability will target 11 rotations per minute to provide more than two minutes of continuous lunar gravity.
“Nasa is pleased to be among the first customers to take advantage of this new capability,” said Christopher Baker, program executive for the Flight Opportunities program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“One of the constant challenges with living and working in space is reduced gravity. Many systems designed for use on Earth simply do not work the same elsewhere. A wide range of tools we need for the Moon and Mars could benefit from testing in partial gravity, including technologies for in-situ resource utilization, regolith mining, and environmental control and life support systems.”
The system is projected to be available in late 2022.
“Humanity has been dreaming about artificial gravity since the earliest days of spaceflight,” said Erika Wagner, PhD, New Shepard director of payloads at Blue Origin. “It’s exciting to be partnering with NASA to create this one-of-a-kind capability to explore the science and technology we will need for future human space exploration.”
New Shepard is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space.
Blue Origin’s reusable suborbital rocket system is designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line – the internationally recognised boundary of space.
Nasa provided development funding towards the new testing capability as part of its strategic investment in the U.S. spaceflight industry.
The lunar gravity simulation will enable the agency to test and de-risk innovations critical to achieving the goals of the Artemis program, as well as lunar surface exploration and Moon-bound commercial applications, it said.
Image: Blue Origin – New Shepard (NS-14) lifts off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas
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