NASA mentioned March 9 that it’s supporting upgrades to New Shepard to permit the automobile to briefly comparable lunar gravity on its suborbital flights. On these flights, the automobile’s crew capsule will use response management thrusters to spin at a charge of 11 revolutions per minute, turning it right into a centrifuge that may simulate lunar gravity — roughly one-sixth of Earth’s gravity — for greater than two minutes.
Whereas NASA can carry out intensive testing in microgravity on the Worldwide Area Station, and for shorter durations on suborbital automobiles and plane flying parabolic trajectories, it’s far tougher to carry out assessments in diminished gravity. Plane can simulate lunar gravity utilizing variations of the identical parabolic arcs flown for microgravity, however sometimes for not more than half a minute at a time.
“One of many fixed challenges with dwelling and dealing in house is diminished gravity,” Christopher Baker, program govt of NASA’s Flight Alternatives know-how demonstration program, mentioned in an company assertion. “A variety of instruments we want for the moon and Mars may gain advantage from testing in partial gravity, together with applied sciences for in situ useful resource utilization, regolith mining, and environmental management and life help methods.”
Blue Origin has beforehand mentioned utilizing New Shepard for diminished gravity flights, resembling simulating lunar gravity. At a webinar in August, Erika Wagner, director of payloads at Blue Origin, mentioned the company was studying options for lunar gravity flights. On the time Blue Origin was planning the primary such flight in “2022-ish.”
NASA mentioned in its announcement the primary lunar gravity New Shepard flight will probably be in late 2022. The company took credit score for enabling such flights by “improvement funding and early buy of payload house by NASA as a part of its strategic funding within the U.S. spaceflight business.”
NASA spokesperson Clare Skelly instructed SpaceNews that NASA bought about half the payload house on a lunar gravity flight and supported improvement of the potential as a part of a contract activity valued at $2.69 million. She mentioned the pricing of particular person gadgets on that activity is “competitors delicate” and thus not printed.
Blue Origin is one in every of a number of firms that present providers to NASA’s Flight Alternatives program by suborbital automobiles, excessive altitude balloons and parabolic plane flights. These flights are supposed to show applied sciences at excessive altitudes or in diminished gravity not in any other case doable in need of going into orbit. Flight Alternatives acquired $27 million in fiscal yr 2021, with $7 million put aside to help improvement and flight of instructional payloads.