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Scientists and engineers who see a way to use the nascent generation of commercial suborbital human-rated spacecraft in their work will have a shot at NASA grants of as much as $500,000 to help with funding.
Just in time for the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference next week, the U.S. space agency has issued a call for proposals seeking suborbital payloads that could lead to “game-changing” technologies for future space travel. NASA expects to issue about 20 awards, most of them in the $50,000-125,000 range. But “several” may be worth far more for work that will enhance the research capabilities of vehicles such as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and the XCOR Aerospace Lynx.
“This solicitation offers an opportunity to develop potentially transformative technologies that take advantage of our Flight Opportunities Program platforms, which allow frequent and predictable commercial access to near-space, with easy recovery of intact payloads,” says Michael Gazarik, director of the Space Technology Program in the office of the chief technologist at NASA headquarters.
Once proposals are selected and funded, they will be matched with one of the seven U.S. companies chosen last August to provide flight opportunities for researchers and/or their payloads on suborbital human vehicles, unpiloted reusable launchers and high-altitude balloons. NASA says the selection will place “special emphasis [on] proposals that address basic and applied research as well as development for advanced technologies and the development of test articles and techniques for evaluating the articles.”
The grants should add momentum to a commercial space market scarcely envisioned when Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne took the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. Since then, suborbital human spaceflight has been pitched as much to researchers with a need for hands-on experimentation or quick-turnaround reflights as to wealthy space tourists looking for a thrill ride.
Topics at the Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto, Calif., will include lessons from parabolic flight, flight training for scientists and engineers, and how-to sessions on preparing suborbital projects in such areas as astrophysics, solar physics and atmospheric, ionospheric and aeronomical science. The conference organizers will also raffle off a future suborbital flight.
Among the speakers at the Palo Alto conference will be George Nield, associate FAA administrator for commercial space transportation. As evidence of the growing maturity of the commercial suborbital marketplace, the FAA has awarded the Florida Institute of Technology almost $90,000, with a matching grant from Space Florida, to identify issues that must be addressed as commercial space vehicles are integrated into the national aerospace system. One question that will be addressed is whether the FAA should develop “high-speed, high-altitude climb corridors” for commercial space vehicles.
Another sure sign of growing interest in commercial suborbital spaceflight is a fledgling Washington lobbying organization. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation says it will set up a “suborbital coalition” for education, information and to “facilitate interaction between policymakers in Washington, researchers and educators on the broad benefits of suborbital spaceflight.”
News NASA, SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Galactic Orbital Spaceflight
While Virgin Galactic’s public sights are set on offering suborbital space tourist treks on its SpaceShipTwo passenger ships, the company is already quietly eyeing the next step which is orbital space travel.
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder and President, publicly admitted the company’s orbital aims last month at the dedication of the Spaceport America facility under construction in New Mexico. But he and other Virgin executives are not pouring in on the details.
Bransod said “Obviously, we want to move on to orbital after we’ve got suborbital under our belts, and maybe even before that.”
Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, a Mojave, California-based aerospace company, have flown several solo glide tests of SpaceShipTwo, most recently on Nov. 17, setting the stage for the first rocket-powered launch trials to follow. Scaled Composites built the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic, as well as the spaceliner’s prize-winning predecessor SpaceShipOne.
Branson also said Virgin Galactic will aim to win a NASA contract to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, under the new space agency plan to use commercial spaceships for low-Earth orbit transportation after the space shuttles retire next year.
But the company will have to face a steep competition. No fewer than four companies, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, SpaceX and the Sierra Nevada Corporation, have made their orbital spaceship aims public. Each has said they plan to compete for a NASA contract, as well as pursue space tourism.
Blog Articles, Trivia Burt Rutan, SpaceShipTwo, SS1, SS2, Statement, VSS Enterprise
A statement from Burt on Sunday’s milestone
I offer my congratulations to all those on our commercial manned sub-orbital spaceship program for yesterday’s milestone first flight of SpaceShipTwo.
Configuration/aerodynamic designer, Jim Tighe got it right the first time; our spaceship demonstrated impressive flying qualities right out of the box. Its flight test-measured stability and gliding performance exceeded the pre-flight predictions.
Systems that usually require post-first flight tweaking, like the unique Michael Fuchs-designed landing gear and the SS1-based flight-director/avionics system, developed by the Pete Kalogiannis-led team, performed to perfection. The flight control, electrical, pneumatic, ECS and launch systems were also flawless on the first flight, giving us confidence that we can move forward with the testing without major modifications. Scot Story’s team also deserves kudos for their work to develop a light, robust all-composite airframe structure.
Flown by both pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury on the first flight, the test crew opened up two thirds of SS2’s required subsonic speed envelope, maneuvered it above 2-g, checked its dynamic and sideslip handling, exercised its flight-path control system and made a perfect landing; spot-on the runway target.
I congratulate Project Lead Matt Stinemetze, Mission Control Lead Brian Binnie and their team of talented engineers as well as Crew Chief Steve Losey and his team of fabricators who built and maintain the first commercial manned space system. There is not a better group of research and flight test talent in the world.
We at Scaled look forward to an aggressive flight test schedule. The fun started on 10/10/10 and will continue as we reach our goal of passing onto our customer a spaceship capable to provide the space experience to thousands of adventurers.
News SpaceShipTwo, Successful Manned Glide Flight, Virgin Galactic, VSS Enterprise, WhiteKnightTwo
Last Oct. 10, Virgin Galactic, the US company developing the world’s first commercial manned space flight system and tourism business, announced the successful completion of the first piloted free flight of SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Enterprise. The spaceship was released from its mothership at an altitude of 13,700 meters.
The first flight of the spaceship was piloted by Pete Siebold, assisted by Mike Alsbury as co-pilot. The two main goals of the flight were to carry out a clean release of the spaceship from its mothership and for the pilots to free fly and glide back and land at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
Other detailed objectives of the flight were successfully completed, including; verification that all systems worked prior and following the clean release of Enterprise; initial evaluation of handling and stall characteristics; qualitative evaluation of stability and control of SS2 against predictions from design and simulation work; verification of performance by evaluating the lift-to-drag ratio of the spaceship during glide flight; practice a landing approach at altitude and finally descend and land.
The WhiteKnightTwo mothership (Eve) flew 40 times including 4 captive carry flights of spaceship and mothership mated together. The most recent captive carry was on Sept 30. The most recent solo flight was on Oct 5 and demonstrated that all the systems required for a free flight by the VSS Enterprise were functioning correctly without any safety issues. Commenting on the successful flight Scaled Composites pilot, Pete Siebold, said “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the world’s highest altitude gliders.”
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the first successful flight, added “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment. Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic who was also present at the historic flight, added “To see the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold. Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA licence and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico.”
News Scaled Composite, SpaceShipTwo, SS2, WhiteKnightTwo, WK2
Damaged in Aug. 19 due to a landing gear failure, the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) launch aircraft will return flight along with the Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) as Scaled Composites is poised to resume captive carry flight tests of the latter aircraft.
Flight tests of the unconventional four-engine mother ship resumed at Mojave, California, on Sept. 13 following repairs to the left vertical tail and modifications to the main landing gear. The undercarriage was beefed up with what senior Scaled management describes as a minor modification, plus an additional fail-safe redundancy.
The functional check flight evaluated performance with the gear fixed down, as well as a simulated SS2 glide mission and approach. The flight, which included two touch-and-go approaches, involved pilot proficiency work and evaluations of engine pylons, rudder repairs, lateral stability and environmental-control systems.
Scaled Composite says the Aug. 19 gear failure occurred while the crew was performing touch-and-go maneuvers. “Upon the fifth nominal touchdown, the left-hand main gear partially retracted. Flight-test engineer Marc Zeitlin immediately annunciated the anomaly and pilot Pete Siebold called for an abort while holding centerline. Meanwhile, co-pilot Clint Nichols secured the engines and systems.”
According to the company, a subsequent test flight, also made with the gear fixed down, was recently completed with no further issues.
Envelope expansion work with the space vehicle attached will still be possible with the gear deployed due to the relatively high-power capability of the WK2’s four Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308A engines.