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Author Topic:   NASA-funded crew on suborbital spacecraft
Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 44815
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-23-2020 10:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA Developing a Plan to Fly Personnel on Suborbital Spacecraft

For the first time in the agency's history, NASA has initiated a new effort to enable NASA personnel to fly on future commercial suborbital spaceflights. NASA's Flight Opportunities program has successfully worked with emerging commercial suborbital transportation systems to fly research payloads to space for short periods of microgravity time. In addition, the Flight Opportunities program recently released a call that allows those non-NASA researchers to propose accompanying their payloads in suborbital space.

Now the Suborbital Crew (SubC) office within NASA's Commercial Crew Program will lay the groundwork for flying NASA personnel on commercial suborbital space transportation systems. The goal of the SubC office is to perform a system qualification, or safety assessment, to enable NASA astronauts, principal investigators and other NASA personnel to take advantage of these unique capabilities. Following the qualification, NASA plans to purchase seats on commercial suborbital space transportation systems for NASA use.

"We've seen how industry can develop innovative crew transportation systems that meet NASA's safety requirements and standards," said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. "Now we'll be looking at a new way of enabling NASA personnel to fly on commercial suborbital space systems by considering factors such as flight experience and flight history."

Commercial suborbital spaceflight capabilities are anticipated to be more accessible, affordable, and available than missions to the International Space Station and could provide NASA additional commercial human spaceflights to conduct such activities as testing and qualification of spaceflight hardware, human-tended microgravity research, and additional training opportunities for astronauts and other NASA personnel. The agency has developed an intensive, comprehensive training program for astronauts and astronaut candidates, and suborbital crew space transportation services could provide even more training opportunities for NASA astronauts, engineers, scientists, operators, and trainers.

The last time NASA astronauts flew on suborbital missions was at the dawn of American human spaceflight with Project Mercury and the X-15 hypersonic research program. Today, the industry is preparing to offer suborbital flights as a service, and NASA wants to be a buyer.

"Suborbital human spaceflight has the potential to provide NASA a great way to meet the agency's needs and continue our efforts to enable a robust economy in space," said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters. "It is notable that no NASA funds were used for the development of suborbital vehicles, but we can participate in the market as a buyer. The U.S. aerospace industry is proving again that it is technically and financially capable of developing safe, reliable, and cost-effective space systems."

One of the initial activities for SubC is to work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and commercial suborbital space transportation providers to define the approach for system qualification for NASA personnel, as well as identify the specific performance capabilities NASA desires.

NASA is seeking responses to a related Request for Information (RFI) to inform the agency's planning for suborbital crew space transportation systems and plans to hold an industry forum, details for which will be announced via updates to the RFI.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 44815
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-14-2020 12:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) release
SwRI planetary scientist to fly with NASA-funded research aboard commercial space flight

Suborbital flight to support two "human-tended" experiments

A Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) planetary scientist has been chosen to be among the first group to conduct NASA-funded science experiments while flying aboard a commercial spacecraft, the space agency announced today.

Dr. Alan Stern, planetary scientist and associate vice president of SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division, will fly aboard the Virgin Galactic commercial spacecraft called SpaceShipTwo on a yet unscheduled suborbital mission from the Spaceport America launch site in New Mexico.

"This is the first selection of a private-sector researcher to fly with NASA funding on commercial vehicles," Stern said. He called the development a "potential sea change" in NASA-funded space research, opening the door to much more extensive experimentation in space by researchers. The NASA selection made today builds on SwRI's long history of work and internal research funding to capitalize on the new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles like SpaceShipTwo.

"Our commercial suborbital space flight program dates back almost a decade," said SwRI President and CEO Adam L. Hamilton, P.E. "To see the results of SwRI's internal research efforts lead to historic SwRI-tended suborbital experiments is very exciting!"

In 2020, NASA updated the Flight Opportunities Tech Flights solicitation in part to allow "human-tended" experiments on board commercial spacecraft.

"We are proud to be working with NASA and the Southwest Research Institute to fly Dr. Alan Stern on our SpaceShipTwo vehicle from Spaceport America," said Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic. "It will be Alan's first time flying to space and we are excited to be involved in such an important milestone. Human-tended research onboard SpaceShipTwo enables scientists to engage actively with their experiments, responding to developments in real time, which is a vital step towards expanding our understanding of space science. We believe there is significant value in conducting scientific experiments on suborbital flights and we look forward to expanding our capabilities in partnership with NASA's Flight Opportunities Tech Flights program."

One SwRI experiment on the just announced flight will involve Stern operating a former space shuttle and NASA F-18 low light level camera to determine how well space astronomical observations can be conducted. In addition, Stern will be fitted with instrumentation that continuously monitors human vital signs from just before the two-hour flight until after its landing as a biomedical experiment. The results of both experiments will be published.

"Going to work in space myself for the first time after having spent so many years sending machines there to do the research for me is going to be a major career highlight, and something I am honored to be selected for," said Stern, who has previously been involved in 29 space mission science teams but had not flown in space. "But I hope this is just the first of a steady stream of flights by SwRI researchers doing work in space in the years and decades ahead."

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