New Shepard rocket to simulate lunar gravity for NASA

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NASA has just signed an agreement with the company Blue Origin to use a “modified version” of its New Shepard vehicle. The objective will be to offer suborbital flights capable of simulating the reduced gravity felt on the surface of the Moon.

As you know, NASA aims to put its feet on the Moon, this time aiming for a permanent establishment. But working on our satellite involves “doing with” its low gravity (one sixth that of the Earth). Also, to prepare, NASA will have to develop new instruments to then test them in the midst of lunar gravity. In this spirit, the agency has just signed a new contract with Blue Origin.

On the moon inside the New Shepard

For several years, Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon) company Blue Origin has been planning to take tourists into space, just over 100 km above the Earth’s surface. These flights will take place aboard a reusable launcher called New Shepard.

That being said, on March 9, NASA announced that it would also rely on this rocket to briefly simulate lunar gravity on its suborbital flights.

While NASA can perform extensive microgravity testing on board the ISS, and for shorter periods aboard suborbital vehicles and other planes moving on parabolic trajectories, it is much more difficult to perform gravity testing. scaled down.

“One of the constant challenges of living and working in space is the reduction of gravity”, explains Christopher Baker of NASA. “However, a wide range of tools that we need for the Moon and Mars will need to be tested in partial gravity, including technologies for the use of in situ resources, and systems for environmental monitoring and maintenance. of life “.

To do this, capsule upgrades will be required. Eventually, the ship will use reaction control thrusters to spin at a speed of eleven revolutions per minute, transforming it into a centrifuge capable of simulate lunar gravity for more than two minutes.

The interior of the latest New Shepard capsule. For this new collaboration with NASA, the capsule will be modified. Credit: Blue Origin

NASA said in its announcement that the first flight of this “Lunar Gravity New Shepard” would take place at the end of 2022. Agency spokeswoman Clare Skelly said the contract was worth to $ 2.69 million.

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