Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, has been working on top secret rocket plans that may one day carry passengers on suborbital flights that reach just beyond the boundary of outer space.
In hush-hush surroundings, the Bezos Blue Origin business plan has been resolute in developing its New Shepard, a vertical takeoff and landing rocket. The plan: To develop a craft that can routinely fly multiple astronauts into suborbital space at competitive prices [SPACE.com].
The flights would reach up to 62 miles in the air, which would allow the passengers to see the blue curve of the Earth (which you, the reader, can see for free atop this post) and experience momentary weightlessness. Bezos has been conducting flight tests on his private Texas ranch, but beyond these general plans, no one really knew what the billionaire might have up his sleeve—until now.
The publicity shy Blue Origin recently announced that it has selected three research payloads
—basically zero-G flight experiments—to fly aboard the New Shepard rocket. The three experiments are: "Three-Dimensional Critical Wetting Experiment in Microgravity." Principal investigator: Stephen Collicott of Purdue University. Collicott's research focuses on how fluids behave in zero-gravity environments. Such studies are crucial for propulsion system design. "Microgravity Experiment on Dust Environments in Astrophysics" (MEDEA). Principal investigator: Joshua Colwell, of the University of Central Florida. As described in this UCF news release, Colwell's experiment is aimed at shedding light on the process by which space dust builds up to form planets, or the rings around those planets.
"Effective lnterfacial Tension lnduced Convection" (EITIC). Principal investigator: John Pojman, of Louisiana State University. Pojman concentrates on the interaction of fluids in zero-G [MSNBC.com].
The experiments will be unmanned and no money will be exchanged between Blue Origin and the researchers. Blue Origin plans to start the suborbital experiments in 2011, and hopes to have people aboard New Shepard by 2012.
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Image: flickr / PauloReCanuto