One of the biggest challenges in preparing people and equipment to work on the moon is gravity. Gravity on the moon is one-sixth of what we see on Earth. All personnel and equipment heading to the moon must operate in this drastically reduced gravity. While NASA can simulate the moon’s gravity using parabolic flights and centrifuges aboard sub-orbital vehicles, both methods provide only short periods of simulating lunar gravity.
NASA and Blue Origin Working A better option would provide longer and larger missions that simulate lunar gravity. The new Lunar Gravity Test capability is expected to be available in late 2022. The plan includes an upgrade to the New Shepherd to allow the spacecraft to use a reaction control system to carry the spin on the capsule.
As the capsule rotates, it acts as a large centrifuge creating an artificial gravitational environment for the payloads inside. During its first test flight of capability, Blue Origin will target 11 rpm, providing more than two minutes of continuous lunar gravity. Lunar gravity simulations allow NASA to test innovations and remove risks critical to achieving the goals of the Artemis program, along with exploration of the moon’s surface and the commercial applications associated with the moon.
NASA’s Christopher Baker points out that many systems designed for use on Earth don’t operate the same way anywhere else. With the new ability to simulate lunar gravity, the instrument cluster for missions to the Moon and Mars can be tested in partial gravity. The New Shepherd spacecraft is among the commercial flight platforms available to test flight technology under the contracted NASA Flight Opportunities program.
The NASA Flight Opportunity Program is funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate and administered at the NASA Flight Research Center in Armstrong, California. Erika Wagner of Blue Origin says humanity has dreamed of artificial gravity since the early days of spaceflight, and the company is excited to partner with NASA.