The research and education community voted with its feet last week with over 250 people turning out at the first-ever Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Boulder, Colorado, to discuss applications of commercial suborbital vehicles being built by companies including Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace.
The conference included sessions on astronomy, solar physics, and planetary science; life sciences; microgravity physics; technology payloads and deployable vehicles; education and public outreach; and atmospheric, ionospheric, and auroral science.
“The amount of interest in these new suborbital vehicles was immediately apparent at our Boulder conference. The excitement in the air was contagious,” said John Gedmark, Executive Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
Dr. S. Alan Stern, chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) and former NASA associate administrator for science, added, “In response to the turn-out at the conference last week, Space Florida and the University of Central Florida have teamed together with us to host a second, larger Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference meeting February 28 to March 1, 2011, in Orlando, Florida. I’m looking forward to that already.”
Last week’s conference included an announcement by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver of $75 million in planned funding over five years for NASA’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program.
The CRuSR program was highlighted in NASA’s detailed FY2011 budget proposal released today, which states: “As commercial suborbital capabilities become available, the CRuSR program will competitively secure flight services for experiment payloads supporting NASA’s objectives in science, technology and education.” NASA’s budget also stated that “CRuSR establishes a series of suborbital flights that will yield many benefits to NASA by providing access to 3-4 minutes of microgravity for experimentation, discovery and testing. Results are expected to reduce the risk for use of new technologies in future missions by demonstrating application in the space environment, providing for routine recovery of payloads and frequent flights.”
(Above image): Some of the 200-plus attendees at the opening session. (Below image): Opening keynote speakers included, from left, Alan Stern, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden, Universities Space Research Association President Fred Tarantino, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation head George Nield, and Commercial Spaceflight Federation Chairman Mark Sirangelo. Images courtesy of Dan Durda at Southwest Research Institute.