Capability Development and Demonstration for Next-Generation Suborbital Research, 15-R8115

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Principal Investigator
S. Alan Stern

Inclusive Dates:  01/01/10 – Current

Background - Research applications for new generation suborbital vehicles include, but are not limited to, microgravity sciences, space life sciences, Earth and space sciences, land use, education and public outreach, technology development and demonstration/space systems development and demonstrations. The primary research advantages of these vehicles include better launch affordability compared to conventional sounding rockets, capability for human operator presence, better experiment affordability, more frequent access to the space environment, gentler ascent and entry compared to sounding rockets, extended periods of turbulence-free microgravity, and increased time in the 250,000 to 400,000 ft (80 to 120 km) region of the atmosphere (the "ignorosphere").

Approach - SwRI's long-term business interests in these vehicles are:

  • To exploit them for planetary, microgravity, aeronomical, and auroral research.

  • To provide research-related common systems (flight computers, data recording racks, etc.) and payload integration services to NASA and/or vehicle providers.

  • To provide instrumentation, payload specialists, and flight project expertise to research groups, both domestic and overseas, working in this area.

Therefore the overarching objective of this project is to put SwRI in the lead of the burgeoning suborbital research field using next-generation, manned vehicles by becoming one of the first, and quite possibly the first organization to fly payloads with research payload specialists on these vehicles. This will open up to SwRI a series of new business opportunities including new funded research projects, new hardware development projects, ground and flight system task order contracts associated with next-generation suborbital work, and the provision of payload specialists for next-generation suborbital work.

Accomplishments -

  • Selected flight experiments (SWUIS-A for remote sensing; JSC biomed harnesses for life science work; BORE for microgravity research).

  • Secured personnel for SWUIS-A refurbishment, checkout, and calibration.

  • Began the refurbishment of SWUIS-A.

  • Completed the design and initiated construction of the BORE microgravity experiment.

  • Received and test fit a JSC biomed hardness, which SwRI researchers expect to flight test on both zero-G and fighter aircraft in November.

  • Initiated discussions with XCOR, Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures about flight assignments, terms and conditions on their suborbital vehicles.

  • Constructed a flight requirements matrix to determine which flight providers are suitable for which experiments.

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