Space

Blue Origin's spinning New Shepard capsule to simulate lunar gravity

Blue Origin's spinning New She...
The New Shepard rocket lifts off on a recent test flight
The New Shepard rocket lifts off on a recent test flight
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The New Shepard rocket lifts off on a recent test flight
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The New Shepard rocket lifts off on a recent test flight

For NASA and anyone else developing technologies for use on the Moon, opportunities to test them out beforehand in lunar-like conditions are rather limited. A newly announced upgrade to Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket system will serve as a new type of testbed for these efforts, offering minutes of simulated lunar gravity by spinning through suborbital space.

New Shepard is Blue Origin's commercial rocket system designed to carry cargo and tourists into suborbital space, and in January this year completed its 14th test flight. This included the first flight of an upgraded crew capsule complete with a dummy astronaut onboard, and successful landings for both the booster and capsule.

As part of the company's dealings with NASA, it will improve the capabilities of its New Shepard rocket system to further the agency's ambitions relating to lunar exploration. As it stands, NASA has the capacity to simulate lunar gravity on suborbital vehicles, but only for seconds at a time and with limited payload size.

The upgrades to New Shepard will significantly expand these testing windows, enabling the rocket to engage its reaction control system to cause the capsule to rotate in suborbital space, turning it into a large centrifuge. To start out, Blue Origin will attempt to make 11 rotations per minute and provide more than two minutes of continuous lunar gravity conditions.

“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.”

These new capabilities are expected to be available in late 2022.

Source: NASA

2 comments
Dan_of_Reason
I am amazed at what SpaceX and Blue Origin have been able to accomplish, in such a modest amount of time, with ten or so billion rather than hundreds of billions (over the years). Don't get me wrong, I'm a big NASA fan, but they should just say, OK you do it we're here to support. I know they are for returning Astronauts to space.
buzzclick
Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Galactical...I have no doubt there will be more private enterprises that will see the opportunity for profit and technological advancement in space travel, but they may not exist if NASA, ESA and the Russians weren't there to break new ground over the decades. Still, there seems to be room for every effort made to give private companies a kick at the can...
So maybe the "established" national space orgs can act as overseers like the FAA or FDA to make sure things are done according to some kind of structural protocol?