New Shepard lifts off on its 12th mission on December 11, 2019. Photo credit: Blue Origin

UCF Research Sails into Space for 5th Time in 2019

By: Robert H. Wells on

University of Central Florida research headed to space again this year, this time aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launched from the company’s facility in West Texas on Wednesday.

The flight marked the fifth time UCF research has flown into space in 2019, after successful flights aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station in July, on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket in May and January and on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in February. UCF research also flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s maiden voyage in December 2018.

The research project that flew Wednesday is known as the Collection of Regolith Experiment, or CORE. Regolith is the loose, unconsolidated material on the surface of the moon, an asteroid or other objects in space that doesn’t have an atmosphere.

The experiment tested the impact and ability of a scooping mechanism to plunge into a layer of regolith in microgravity to retrieve a sample. It is also analyzing the dynamics of how the regolith moves and disperses as a result of the impact of the scooping mechanism.

The results could inform future missions to sample asteroids, which are important because asteroids contain information about the evolution of the solar system and can contain valuable metals and resources, said Adrienne Dove, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Physics who is a co-principal investigator of the project.

Both Dove and Josh Colwell, the project’s principal investigator and a UCF physics professor, said they were anxious to get the data back from the experiment.

“I’m excited that the launch went well, but nervous to see how the experiment went,” Dove said after the launch. “I’m not sure if we’ll get the data back later today or tomorrow.”

Wednesday was a reflight for CORE with Blue Origin. When the experiment first flew in January, it experienced an issue that affected data collection.

CORE is a close relative to the COLLIDE series of experiments that have flown on space shuttle missions, as well as with Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, Colwell said. COLLIDE stands for Collisions Into Dust Experiment.

“This experiment could be considered a next step up from COLLIDE because instead of just impacting the surface and looking at the particles knocked off, we are actively sampling and digging into the regolith simulant,” he said.

The flight marks the eighth experiment Dove has had fly into space and the 12th for Colwell.

Colwell is a UCF Pegasus Professor and is the director of UCF’s Center for Microgravity Research and the assistant director of the Florida Space Institute. He received his doctorate in astrophysical, planetary and atmospheric sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder and his bachelor of science in physics from Stetson University. He joined UCF in 2006.

Dove received her doctorate in astrophysics and planetary science from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her bachelor of science in physics from the University of Missouri. She joined UCF in 2012.

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