Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will be providing NASA with a valuable scientific tool ahead of the U.S. space agency’s goal of returning to the Moon: The ability to run experiments in simulated lunar gravity much closer to home, in suborbital space.
NASA revealed that Blue Origin will be modifying its reusable New Shepard sub-orbital launch vehicle to add Moon gravity approximation via rotation of the spacecraft’s capsule. That’ll effectively turn it into one big centrifuge, which will mean that objects inside will experience a gravitational force very close to that found on the lunar surface.
It’s not like there aren’t already ways to simulate lunar gravity, but the way that New Shepard will implement its system will provide two benefits that none of these existing methods can match: Longer duration, offering over two minutes of continuous artificial Moon gravity exposure, and larger payload capacity, which will unlock experimental capabilities that are currently impossible just due to space restrictions.
Blue Origin anticipates that this new capability for New Shepard will be ready to roll by 2022 – important timing because the whole idea is to help support NASA’s Artemis program, which is its mission series that will see a return to human Moon exploration, including establishment of a more permanent crewed research presence both in lunar orbit and on the surface.
Gravity on the surface of the Moon is about one-sixth as powerful as that here on Earth. NASA also points out that it will require experimentation not only in preparation for lunar missions, but also to support eventually crewed launches to Mars, which has gravity that’s just over one-third as strong as it is here.
Blue Origin is also working with NASA on human landers for its lunar missions, through a space industry team-up that includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.