Suborbital Science

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Science, research, and education missions on commercial suborbital vehicles offer low flight costs, rapid turnaround times, high flight rates, and a variety of trajectory profiles.

Overview: Vehicles under development by commercial suborbital companies, such as Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, and XCOR Aerospace, will allow unprecedented access to the space environment and a new way to engage scientists, university researchers, and students. The scientific community has reacted enthusiastically to the promise of these vehicles, with over 400 scientists from around the country participating in a series of workshops and conferences with suborbital vehicle developers. NASA also quickly recognized the potential of commercial suborbital spacecraft, and has taken initial steps through the formation of the Flight Opportunities Program at NASA Ames Research Center and NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, purchasing flights aboard suborbital crafts to stimulate microgravity research. Since vehicle flights will ramp up in the next two years, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation believes that NASA and other federal agencies should move quickly to make sure that science experiments can take advantage of these flight opportunities.

Benefits of Commercial Suborbital Science Missions:

Cost effectiveness: Lower cost access to the space environment than existing sounding rockets, with a rate of $100K–$200K per 100 kg slot

Instrument flexibility: Vehicles can support both unmanned payloads and human-tended experiments, with different vehicle types providing a variety of possible mission profiles

Leverages private investment: Take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment in development of new suborbital commercial vehicles, for the benefit of the science community

Unique capabilities: Fly-on-demand, rapid-turnaround, and human-in-the-loop capabilities will enable new types of previously impossible research

Hands-on experience for students: University research payloads will provide a new avenue for student involvement and hands-on-training with science experiment hardware.

Suborbital Applications Researchers Group

Commercial Spaceflight Federation in conjunction with South West Research Institute, created the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) in order to promote, advocate, educate, and spread the use of commercially available suborbital flight.

SARG is always looking for people interested in suborbital flight and offers a program that facilitates suborbital advocacy. The SARG Ambassador program seeks scientists, engineers, policymakers, and professionals with an interest in promoting suborbital technology. As a part of SARG’s Research Education Mission (REM), SARG Ambassadors will receive materials, presentations, and expert knowledge to facilitate the promotion of suborbital vehicles. Ambassadors may choose to advocate in whichever method is most comfortable to them, SARG will notify the ambassadors when a related event is scheduled to occur in their area.

SARG is chaired by Dr. S. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, a space scientist who previously served as head of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Commercial Spaceflight Federation staff serve as the SARG Program Officers. More details can be found in our press release [pdf].

Diverse Research Areas: Relevant research disciplines include earth science, heliophysics, planetary sciences, astronomy, microgravity physical sciences, life sciences, aeromedical, and aeronautics. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, along with Southwest Research Institute organizes the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference series, which brings together scientists, educators, students, and vehicle developers to discuss application of commercial spacecraft.

The 2010 conference, which took place February 18-20, 2010 in Boulder, Colorado, drew over 250 people.

The 2011 conference was successfully held February 28-March 1, 2011 at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, drawing over 300 people.

The 2012 conference took place February 27-29, 2012 in Palo Alto, California with 400 participants.

The 2013 conference was held June 3-5, 2013 in Summit County, Colorado. As a surprise to the conference attendees, XCOR brought along an experimental model Lynx suborbital vehicle. 

Additionally, detailed presentations from scientists, engineers, and NASA personnel are also available.

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