2012 IR&D Annual Report

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

Principal Investigators
S. Alan Stern
Daniel Durda

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 (EPO), technology development and demonstration/space systems development and demonstrations (including TRL raising). The primary research advantages of these vehicles include: more frequent access to the space environment, lower launch cost compared to conventional sounding rockets, capability for human operator presence, better experiment affordability, 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").

SwRI staff members completed pressure suit testing and centrifuge evaluation in November 2011.
SwRI staff members completed pressure suit testing and centrifuge evaluation in November 2011.

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 for 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 SwRI to 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 providing payload specialists for next-generation suborbital work.

Accomplishments — Accomplishments on this IR this year include:

  • SwRI staff completed pressure-suit familiarization training at the David Clark Company and staff undertook centrifuge training at NASTAR to test/evaluate the David Clark CHAPS pressure suit under launch g-loads.
  • Completed an upgrade and re-calibration of SWUIS experiment for flight.
  • Initiated planning for high altitude (75,000 ft) flight training in F-104 and F-18 aircraft for later 2012.
  • Negotiated early flight test phase spaceflights with XCOR.
  • Completed FAA Class I medical to maintain expected suborbital flight medical qualification standards.
  • Continued aerobatic jet aircraft training.
  • Completed flight data requirements and collection plans for each suborbital experiment.
  • Invited oral presentation on the SwRI Suborbital Program at AIAA annual meeting (Nashville, Tenn.).
  • Oral presentations on the SwRI Suborbital Program and SwRI's three suborbital experiments at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (Palo Alto, Calif.).
  • Invited oral presentation on the SwRI Suborbital Program at Spacefest IV (Tucson, Ariz.).
  • Invited panel presentation and discussion on the SwRI Suborbital Program at Spaceup Houston 2012 Commercial Spaceflight event (Houston).
The SWUIS experiment was upgraded and re-calibrated during laboratory and field ops in 2012.
The SWUIS experiment was upgraded and re-calibrated during laboratory and field ops in 2012.
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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 9 technical divisions.
04/15/14