This week, the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG), an advisory committee of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, met at the Boulder, Colorado campus of the Southwest Research Institute to discuss the research and education potential of the new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles. The multi-disciplinary committee discussed a variety of possible missions, ranging from fluid-mechanics experiments and atmospheric sampling to life sciences research and low-cost student-built payloads.
After the meeting, SARG member Dr. Daniel Durda, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, said, “Hearing my colleagues from other research disciplines describe the new investigations they’re excitedly looking forward to, it’s clear that this next generation of suborbital vehicles has the potential to fundamentally transform the way we think about doing space science.”
Dr. Steven Collicott of Purdue University, who conducts research in fluid physics, added, “Frequent, affordable, and rapid access to low-gravity for research in fluid dynamics and combustion is such a revolution that the positive impact can only be guessed at today. This emerging capability will make many more experiments practical to perform.”
SARG chair Dr. S. Alan Stern, who has previously held the top science position at NASA Headquarters, stated, “SARG recognizes as a committee of researchers across many scientific and engineering fields that the frequent, fast, and low cost access to space that the next-gen piloted suborbital capabilities offer, make these vehicles a true scientific game changer. Their potential for research, training, education, and public outreach from space is simply stunning.”
The group decided that in the next few months, SARG members will reach out to a wide range of colleagues in the scientific, research, and education communities, and help to inform policymakers about the potential of these new vehicles.
Additionally, based on inputs received from the group meeting, John Gedmark, Commercial Spaceflight Federation Executive Director, and Alan Stern, SARG Chair, participated in a discussion panel on commercial suborbital vehicles during the August 19th public hearing of the National Academies’ Committee on NASA’s Suborbital Research Capabilities. This committee has been tasked with studying “the status, capability, and availability of suborbital platforms,” and its final report is expected in early 2010.
For additional information, please see our press release announcement [pdf] on the formation of SARG. To learn more about the research potential of commercial suborbital vehicles being built by companies such as Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Scaled Composites/Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace, please visit the Suborbital Research section of our website.
Image credit: City of Boulder