Blue Origin's reusable rocket New Shepard successfully blasted off into space on April 2 and landed back in one piece.
The launch is impressive not only because the same rocket has been used thrice, but also because it marked a first for the spaceflight company's suborbital efforts.
New Shepard's April 2nd run featured two scientific experiments: the Collisions into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE) and the Box of Rocks Experiment (BORE), all of which are part of Blue Origin's efforts to study the possibilities of commercial spaceflight.
Definitely Not A BORE-ing Experiment
Led by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), BORE is a project that includes a box of wobbly rocks intended to simulate the surface condition on asteroids.
"BORE is focused on better understanding the rocky soil on the surfaces of small near-Earth asteroids," said Dan Durda, principal investigator of the BORE project.
Durda said little is known about the role of the rocky soil that a simple experiment to observe the jostling and settling of rocky debris in microgravity would teach scientists a lot.
"It behooves us to better understand the environment. New Shepard really offers an interesting opportunity to get a few minutes of very clean microgravity on a suborbital spaceflight," added Durda.
When Space Objects COLLIDE
The COLLIDE project, which is designed by students from the University of Central Florida, was intended to record videos of a marble hitting a bed of dust in low gravity.
Also known as Microgravity Experiment on Dust Environments in Astrophysics (MEDEA) project, COLLIDE would shed light on how space dust builds up to form planets or the rings that surround planets.
Physics professor Josh Colwell, instigator of the project, said UCF scientists are hoping to understand collisions in the early solar system, as well as collisions between ring particles like Saturn's rings and in places where gravity is very weak. Such places include asteroid surfaces or the small Martian moons.
Results will also help scientists learn more about the behavior of dust on the surface of small asteroids expected to be visited by upcoming robotic missions.
"The suborbital environment provided to us by New Shepard will enable us to see particles moving in conditions that cannot be duplicated on the ground," said Colwell.
Colwell said many talented students have helped them make MEDEA happen.
"I'm just thrilled that we're going to get data back immediately after flight and get a look at the strange behavior of dust in a microgravity space environment," added Colwell.