Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin will provide NASA with a research environment to help simulate gravity conditions on the moon, rotating its New Shepard spacecraft 11 times a minute on suborbital flights starting late next year.
Whenever humans return to the lunar surface for an extended period, its unique gravity — one-sixth of Earth’s — will be one of multiple hurdles NASA has to master.
“One of the constant challenges with living and working in space is reduced gravity,” Christopher Baker, program executive for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, said Tuesday in a statement. “Many systems designed for use on Earth simply do not work the same elsewhere.”
NASA said it will provide development funds and pre-purchase payload space on New Shepard flights to fund the “new capability.” Among the critical systems the agency might research with its two minutes of partial gravity per flight: life support, mining and environmental control systems.
NASA’s Artemis program, begun under the Trump administration, plans to return astronauts to the moon in 2024. Most space-industry observers expect the Biden administration to revise that date, given the agency’s current budget.
Artificial gravity has long been the purview of science-fiction films, a daunting challenge in the real world because of the enormous rotating structures, mass and expense required to try to create such conditions on a deep-space voyage.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable craft will take six people on 11-minute suborbital space rides from West Texas. The Kent-based company has said it could fly people aboard the craft as soon as this year.