DLR to Fly Experiments on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

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September 26, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: September 26 on

The German Aerospace Center, Germany’s space agency, will fly two experiments on a suborbital flight by Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle later this year as part of an effort to diversify its microgravity research efforts. Thomas Driebe, head of the physical and material sciences program at the center, known by the German acronym DLR, said in a presentation July 18 at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here that the center planned to fly the physical sciences experiments under a commercial deal with Blue Origin. “This is another opportunity for German scientists,” he said in a brief discussion about the mission, scheduled for the second half of this year, during his presentation. In a later interview, Driebe said one of the experiments will test a phenomenon known as photophoresis, the movement of particles suspended in a gas triggered by light. In astrophysics, photophoresis plays a role in the formation of planets in protoplanetary disks. The other experiment, he said, will test granular matter dynamics in microgravity. DLR flies microgravity experiments on suborbital sounding rockets, but those opportunities are limited: two launches every three years, he said. “There, we really put in experiments which have a strong demand for the six and a half minutes of microgravity time that we have,” he said, referring to the time on the sounding rocket flight where the payload is in weightlessness. Commercial suborbital vehicles offer shorter times in microgravity. Blue Origin, on its website, advertises “approximately three minutes in a high-quality microgravity environment” on each New Shepard flight. Cost is also a factor. “The sounding rockets are rather cost-intensive,” Driebe said. “So this was an opportunity to put small payloads on another platform.” DLR purchased the payload space on the New Shepard flight, he said, but he did not disclose the price the center paid. “Since it’s one of the first flights, as far as I know there was a special discount.”