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NASA and Blue Origin partner to propel space technology in latest suborbital flight
Flight profile for Blue Origin's New Shepard. NASA's collaboration with Blue Origin, through the Flight Opportunities program, is a significant stride in space technology development. It not only advances research in areas like alternative fuels, biosensor production, and biological studies but also strengthens the commercial space industry's role in future space explorations. This mission demonstrates the promising trajectory of space technology, driven by a blend of academic research, government initiatives, and private sector innovation.
NASA and Blue Origin partner to propel space technology in latest suborbital flight
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Dec 21, 2023

In a significant step towards advancing space technology, NASA, in partnership with commercial spaceflight company Blue Origin, successfully conducted a suborbital flight test on December 19, 2023. The mission, part of NASA's Flight Opportunities program, propelled 14 research payloads towards future space missions and commercial applications. This collaboration signifies a concerted effort to tackle the challenges and opportunities of sustained human presence in space.

The payloads, aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket, soared to an altitude of 351,248 feet from Launch Site One in West Texas. During their flight, these payloads experienced approximately three minutes of microgravity, a condition crucial for understanding the effects of reduced gravity on technology and biological organisms.

Danielle McCulloch, program manager for Flight Opportunities at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, emphasized the role of commercial spaceflight in advancing space technologies. "NASA relies on emerging commercial spaceflight capabilities to rapidly test disruptive solutions for space applications," she said. The collaboration with companies like Blue Origin is a strategic move to make space exploration and commerce more accessible to a wider range of researchers.

This mission also marks a significant achievement for Blue Origin, marking the return to flight for their New Shepard rocket. The flight illustrates the strengthening bond between NASA and the commercial space industry, a relationship that is vital for NASA's future explorations of the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Among the intriguing technologies tested was a project investigating the use of paraffin and beeswax as safer, cost-effective spacecraft fuel alternatives. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology leveraged this flight to explore in-space manufacturing techniques for these materials, potentially revolutionizing small spacecraft propulsion.

Another highlight of the flight was a project by Ecoatoms Inc., a small business from Reno, Nevada. They aimed to advance the production of biosensors in low Earth orbit. Earth's gravity often hampers the quality of these sensors, but manufacturing them in microgravity could lead to smoother and more uniform sensors, enhancing their performance. Solange Massa, founder and CEO of Ecoatoms, shared her enthusiasm: "We are excited to test at-scale manufacturing of biosensors in space. Coating hundreds of sensors in microgravity will provide us with extremely valuable information to advance our technology." This test is not only a stepping stone for space-based healthcare tools but also a testament to the growing intersection of space exploration and healthcare advancements.

The University of Colorado Boulder and Montana State University embarked on a fascinating study using a yeast variant, Candida albicans, to understand how microgravity affects humans. This research could offer insights into the cellular and physiological adaptations necessary for extended human space missions.

Other technologies benefiting from this flight included an electrophysiological measurement system, lens-free imaging system, an experiment on the application of electric fields to dust simulants, a tool for evaluating soil properties on near-Earth asteroids, and several others. These technologies, developed by various universities, small businesses, and NASA centers, underline the diverse contributions to space research.

Related Links
NASA's Flight Opportunities Program
The latest information about the Commercial Satellite Industry

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