Keith Cowing: February 2011 Archives

In Historic First, Three Scientists to Fly on Commercial Spacecraft, CSF

"Three scientists, including a former NASA executive, will become some of the first scientists to fly on a commercial spacecraft -- and they will fly multiple times -- under the terms of two funded agreements announced between the nonprofit Southwest Research Institute and two commercial spacecraft providers, Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace."

Keith's note: Something interesting is happening: XCOR and Virgin Galactic, two different companies with two different approaches to providing crew and cargo access to space on suborbital vehicles are both announcing commercial contracts to fly payloads and private payload specialists. The funding force behind this ground breaking dual lauch provider effort is the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

Contrary to the dismissive view many have taken with this emerging sector i.e. that it is only suited for well-heeled tourists, these announcements show that there is viable commercial and scientific work to be done on these vehicles as well - work not dependent on government contracts. Moreover, this commitment by SwRI shows that this activity can be conducted wholly within the private sector between research organizations and commercial providers.

In addition, these announcements underscore the growing understanding that there is value to using regimes other than orbital flight, and that other portions of near-Earth space, the so called "Ignoreosphere", have value both as locations to conduct scientific research and education as well as being regions of intrinsic value themselves worthy of future investigation.

SwRI signs contracts to fly eight pioneering missions with SwRI payload specialists aboard reusable suborbital launchers, with options for more flights

"Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) announced pioneering agreements today to send three scientists as payload specialists aboard eight suborbital flights -- some to altitudes greater than 350,000 feet, above the internationally recognized boundary of space. No other organization has yet concluded contracts to fly its researchers in space aboard next-generation suborbital spacecraft. Also unique is the number of payload specialist researcher seats involved -- eight at a minimum, with options up to 17 high altitude or space flights."

Virgin Galactic to Fly Scientists to Space

"Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, LLC, the world's first commercial spaceline, announced today the first ever commercial contracts to fly scientists into space for the purpose of conducting research experiments. Virgin Galactic's signed contract with the Southwest Research Institute is the first such agreement to fly scientists into space (over 100 kilometers or 328,000 feet above the Earth), enabling valuable microgravity, biology, climate and astronomy research."

Keith's note: Ah, Virgin Galactic is playing up the Von Karman line as the definition of "space" so as to be able to say "first ever commercial contracts to fly scientists into space" in a press release. Oh well, XCOR announced their contract for similar services last week. Then again the NASA uses a lower altitude. Which definition of "space" is "official"?

X-15 Pioneers Honored as Astronauts, NASA (23 August 2005)

" ... NASA pilot Bill Dana, and family members representing deceased pilots John B. McKay and Joseph A. Walker, received civilian astronaut wings acknowledging their flights above 50 miles [62 km] high."

Allure From Afar: 1st Prize Student Essay at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, 2011, Kevin Schillo, University of Central Florida

"We stand at the forefront of what may be a renaissance in suborbital spaceflight. As such, it is paramount that we ask ourselves the most basic and fundamental inquiry regarding this development. Why does it matter, especially when compared to other developments made with space technology? Because the fact remains that even after nearly sixty years, human spaceflight remains an extremely expensive, hazardous, and dangerous undertaking. Only Russia, the United States, and China have been successful in developing and launching their own manned spacecraft. To date, only slightly more than five hundred people have flown in space."

XCOR Announces Global Network of Research and Educational Mission Payload Integrators for Lynx Suborbital Spaceplane

"At the commencement of the 2011 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) being held in Orlando, Florida, XCOR Aerospace announced its initial team of suborbital payload integration specialists who will begin taking orders and facilitating experiment development and integration for commercial, educational and government suborbital research missions aboard XCOR's Lynx reusable suborbital launch vehicle. Capable of up to four flights per day, the Lynx is expected to provide three to four minutes of micro-gravity and/or exposure to the harsh environment of space and the opportunity to investigate largely unknown regions of our upper atmosphere critical to environmental studies."

Keith's note: I will be sitting through the NASA Advisory Council Meeting [agenda] at NASA HQ today and posting updates here and on Twitter at @NASAWatch

Keith's note: As much as I loathe the overuse of the word "awesome" by Gen Y, the NASA Advisory Council took an informal vote during lunch break and asked me to post this video. Tip of the hat to NASA PAO. Direct link for those of you that have YouTube blocked by NASA.

Keith's update: A Carnegie astronomer notes: "While brimming with enthusiasm, this video makes a major error by claiming that JWST will be able "to see the Earth" if it was 25 light-years away. Sadly, this is not true. Here is what the JWST web page states is the true capability of JWST: "Webb can only see large planets orbiting at relatively large distances from the parent star. To see small Earth-like planets, which are billions of time fainter than their parent star, a space telescope capable of seeing at even higher angular resolution will be required. NASA is studying such a space mission, the Terrestrial Planet Finder." This quote is from the JWST web page located at: JWST will do fantastic science, but if someone says that it will do things that are impossible for it to do, the entire project is likely to suffer.



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