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Commercial Suborbital Science Update

Interest in the use of commercial suborbital vehicles for science and research missions has been one of the most exciting developments for our industry over the past year. We’ve seen a diverse cross-section of interest in the various capabilities of these new commercial vehicles, and it quickly became apparent this is not simply a matter of driving down costs when compared to traditional suborbital platforms like sounding rockets and balloons. A variety of unique and creative ideas for making use of these vehicles have surfaced due to our industry’s direct engagement with the scientific community.

For example, flexibility to launch from a number of different locations, along with the ability to fly a variety of flight profiles, will open up new earth and space science applications at the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere. New microgravity life science research will be enabled by quick and easy access to payloads during flights and the option of conducting human-tended experiments. And the large number of private individuals that will fly in space could allow the research community to quickly build up a large database on human physiological responses in microgravity, data that could be invaluable for future space missions.

Here’s a great chart put together at NASA’s Ames Research Center comparing suborbital capabilities:

Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Lynn Harper

The programs and plans that will allow scientists to take advantage of these new vehicles are developing in real time, so you’ll be hearing a lot more about these scientific efforts on the pages of this website over the next few weeks and months. In the meantime, please take a minute to check out the results from the two workshops we organized that attracted over 200 participants from various fields:

• Dec ’08 workshop focused on earth & space sciences: see report of Dec-08 results.

• May ’09 workshop focused on life sciences & microgravity: see report of May-09 results.

You can find even more detail at the Commercial Suborbital Research Program portal where presentations from scientists, engineers, and NASA personnel have been posted, and if you are interested in learning more please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Be sure to check back soon since we continue to post more information as these programs develop.