2013 IR&D Annual Report

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

Principal Investigator
S. Alan Stern

Inclusive Dates: 01/01/10 – Current

Background — Research applications for new-generation suborbital vehicles include microgravity sciences, space life sciences, Earth and space sciences, land use, education and public outreach (EPO), technology development and 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").

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 to SwRI a series of new business opportunities including funded research projects, hardware development projects, ground and flight system task order contracts associated with next-generation suborbital work, and providing payload specialists for next-generation suborbital flights.

Accomplishments — Accomplishments on this project for this year include:

  • Met with flight providers XCOR and Virgin Galactic to obtain flight integration timelines and experiment documentation flight requirements (February 2013).
  • Requested and received flight integration requirements documents and initiated work to complete these documents.
  • Clarified crew training requirements with both XCOR and Virgin Galactic.
  • Checked out all three SwRI flight experiments after more than a year in storage.
  • Reported on the progress of SwRI's commercial suborbital program at the NSRC-2013 meeting (250+ participants).
  • Attended September 2014 meeting in Mojave, Calif., for Virgin Galactic flight customers.
  • Presented three public talks on the SwRI Suborbital Program at local clubs/organizations.
  • Attended an invited panel presentation and discussion on the SwRI Suborbital Program at Spaceup Houston 2013 Commercial Spaceflight event (February 2013).
  • Received the latest version of the XCOR Lynx Payload User's Guide (September 16, 2013 – v.4).
  • Participated in a workshop on planetary science applications in suborbital science at the annual Division for Planetary Sciences meeting held October 6, 2013, in Denver.
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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.