Blue Origin’s suborbital vehicle to be used by NASA in a lunar gravity simulation flight
According to a statement by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the agency has agreed with billionaire Jeff Bezos’s aerospace manufacturer, Blue Origin, to use its New Shepard space vehicle in an upcoming flight.
New Shepard is a suborbital vehicle developed by Blue Origin for space tourism. The space company, owned by Amazon chief and aerospace engineer Rob Meyerson, had scheduled the first crewed test for New Shepard in 2019, but it was postponed to 2021. The suborbital vehicle will simulate the lunar gravity to enable NASA to test flights with a reduced gravity in readiness for its lunar mission.
“One of the constant challenges with living and working in space is reduced gravity. 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,” stated Christopher Baker. He serves as the program executive in charge of the NASA’s Flight Opportunities technology demonstration system.
Through the March 9 statement, NASA revealed it is supporting enhancements to New Shepard. The upgrades will enable the suborbital vehicle to imitate the gravity on the moon’s surface on NASA’s suborbital flights. The space vehicle’s crew capsule will use a reaction control impulse generator to rotate at a rate of about 11 revolutions per minute.
The speedy rotations will turn the capsule into a centrifuge that can imitate the lunar surface’s reduced gravity. The simulation is six times less than the earth’s gravity and can be maintained for about two minutes, giving NASA enough time to test its lunar capacity.
In the International Space Station (ISS), NASA can test the technology in microgravity. Suborbital vehicles also provide reduced gravity though for short periods. When it comes to reduced gravities like the one on the moon’s surface, the testing becomes harder. Airplanes flying parabolic trajectories can also simulate reduced gravity but for less than sixty seconds.
Blue Origin had previously revealed its evaluating options to use New Shepard to simulate reduced gravity. According to Erika Wagner’s sentiments during a webinar held in August last year, the company plans to launch a lunar gravity flight around 2022. Wagner is the company’s director of payloads.
NASA plans to execute the reduced gravity flight with New Shepard towards the end of 2022. The agency has been supporting simulation flights through development funding and the early purchase of the payload space.
Going by media reports, the New Shepard flight will cost NASA $2.69 million. The expenditure includes buying off payload space in the suborbital vehicle and backing the vehicle’s proficiency development.