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Carthage payload blasts off on Blue Origin’s New Shepard: See photos!

January 23, 2019

Private aerospace firm Blue Origin launched its New Shepard launch vehicle Wednesday morning in Van Horn, Texas, with one of Carthage’s promising NASA-sponsored experiments on board.

On this unmanned mission, the New Shepard launch vehicle carried eight research payloads as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program — including one that the Carthage Microgravity Team led by Prof. Kevin Crosby developed in tandem with a NASA laboratory. It gathers data for a technology known as Modal Propellant Gauging (MPG), which uses acoustic vibrations to gauge the amount of fuel left in a launch vehicle’s tank.

Blue Origin's New Shepard launched on the morning of Jan. 23, 2019. The New Shepard consists o...Blue Origin's New Shepard launched on the morning of Jan. 23, 2019. The New Shepard consists of the CC (crew capsule) at the top, and the PM (propulsion module, or booster) at the bottom. Shown to the left is the crew access arm that will be used for future crewed missions.

Professor Kevin Crosby and three student researchers — Nicholas Bartel ’20, Celestine Ananda ’20, and Taylor Peterson ’21 — were in Texas to see the launch.

“It’s very exciting to be part of Blue Origin’s New Shepard mission,” said Prof. Crosby. “MPG has been in development at Carthage since 2011, and each year we’ve been able to make real advances in this technology. The MPG payload on New Shepard is the latest step in a larger effort to make efficient low-gravity fuel gauging a reality. We’re happy to see this come together.”

Right now, there’s no way to precisely measure fuel in a zero-g environment, so all spacecraft must tow extra fuel. Industry-wide, that can cost tens of millions of dollars annually, making a solution critical to future manned or deep space missions. The Johnson Space Center in Houston also supports MPG for the next-generation Orion program.

Although the Carthage team has regularly flown similar payloads on parabolic aircraft, Prof. Crosby said the New Shepard rocket’s longer duration in zero-gravity allows for more thorough testing. Blue Origin, a company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, promises roughly four continuous minutes in zero-g.

On a yearlong sabbatical, Prof. Crosby has split time between Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston. One of his main goals is to cultivate commercial interest in related propellant technology.

“We’ve worked really hard on this project, and it’s great to see those years of work come to fruition,” said Celestine Ananda ’20, a physics major from New London, Wis.

The Blue Origin launchpad is shown at sunrise on Jan. 23, 2019.The Blue Origin launchpad is shown at sunrise on Jan. 23, 2019.

The New Shepard propulsion module return to Earth about 10 minutes after launch. Visible are the ...The New Shepard propulsion module return to Earth about 10 minutes after launch. Visible are the module's landing legs, fins, and drag brakes.

The New Shepard crew capsule floats to a landing in the West Texas desert. On board the crew caps...The New Shepard crew capsule floats to a landing in the West Texas desert. On board the crew capsule for this 10th test mission are eight NASA payloads, including the Carthage College MPG-BOP payload experiment.

The Carthage team — from left to right, Nick Bartel, Taylor Peterson, Celestine Ananda, and Pro...The Carthage team — from left to right, Nick Bartel, Taylor Peterson, Celestine Ananda, and Prof. Kevin Crosby — pictured with the New Shepard crew capsule. Visible in the capsule's right window are payload lockers. In the left window, you can see Blue Origin's “Mannequin Skywalker,” who flies on crew capsule test missions.

The Blue Origin and payload teams pose for a photograph with Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos (pictured...The Blue Origin and payload teams pose for a photograph with Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos (pictured in center) in front of the New Shepard propulsion module. The Carthage team is just to the right of Mr. Bezos.

Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

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