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