Blue Origin will simulate moon gravity on rocket launches for NASA

A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket and capsule launch on the suborbital NS-14 mission from the company's West Texas site on Jan. 14, 2021.
A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket and capsule launch on the suborbital NS-14 mission from the company's West Texas site on Jan. 14, 2021. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin plans to deliver moon gravity-style missions on spaceflights much closer to Earth.

Starting in 2022, the company plans to meet a long-standing need to simulate lunar gravity — that would be one-sixth that of Earth's — for larger payloads and for longer periods of time than the current options. Blue Origin will modify its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft to act like a large centrifuge in Earth orbit, gently offering a lunar-like push on the experiments inside the spacecraft.

Experiments requiring moonlike conditions usually require a parabolic flight — which only offers a few seconds of lunar gravity at a time — or a centrifuge, which is limited by size, according to a NASA statement. Blue Origin, however, will use its reaction control system to offer lunar gravity for at least two minutes at a time.

Related: NASA taps Blue Origin's New Glenn to launch future missions

"NASA will soon have more options for testing those innovations in lunar gravity thanks to a collaboration with Blue Origin to bring new testing capabilities to the company’s New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket system," NASA added in the statement.

NASA wants to simulate lunar gravity on Blue Origin's flights in order to prepare for actual missions to the moon by astronauts in the near future. The Artemis program received a renewed commitment from the Biden administration when it took office this year, although there is no word yet that the Trump-era 2024 deadline will be upheld. The point is, however, that the moon remains NASA's next major human exploration target — and they'll want to get technologies ready for that challenging environment.

"NASA is pleased to be among the first customers to take advantage of this new capability," Christopher Baker, program executive for the flight opportunities program at NASA headquarters in Washington, added in the same statement.

A view of Earth from inside Blue Origin New Shepard capsule during its suborbital NS-14 mission from West Texas on Jan. 14, 2021. Blue Origin's Mannequin Skywalker test dummy is visible at the window. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Possible technologies to be tested could include mining the moon's regolith (or soil), living off water or other resources on the moon (called in-situ resource utilization), or getting environmental control and life support systems ready for astronauts, Baker added. "Many systems designed for use on Earth simply do not work the same elsewhere," he said.

Companies wishing to participate in the New Shepard flights may join through NASA's flight opportunities program, whose website is here. A certain number of technologies are selected each year for testing aboard one of several NASA-funded vehicle options.

Separate to these flight testing options, Blue Origin does hope to land on the moon itself eventually. In 2019, the company revealed a lunar lander design called "Blue Moon," meant to participate under NASA's Commercial Lunar Services Program (CLPS) for companies. Blue Origin is eligible for CLPS opportunities, but has not received a contracted mission yet.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: