NASA Selects 7 Companies for Suborbital Research Flights

SpaceShipTwo glides downward on its first test flight. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected seven companies to integrate and fly technology payloads on commercial suborbital reusable platforms that carry payloads near the boundary of space. The selected companies are:

— Armadillo Aerospace, Heath, Texas
— Near Space Corp., Tillamook, Ore.
— Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif.
— Up Aerospace Inc., Highlands Ranch, Colo.
— Virgin Galactic, Mojave, Calif.
— Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, Camarillo, Calif.
— XCOR, Mojave, Calif.

As part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, each successful vendor will receive an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. These two-year contracts, worth a combined total of $10 million, will allow NASA to draw from a pool of commercial space companies to deliver payload integration and flight services. The flights will carry a variety of payloads to help meet the agency’s research and technology needs.

“Through this catalog approach, NASA is moving toward the goal of making frequent, low-cost access to near-space available to a wide range of engineers, scientists and technologists,” said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The government’s ability to open the suborbital research frontier to a broad community of innovators will enable maturation of the new technologies and capabilities needed for NASA’s future missions in space.”

NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist is charged with maturing crosscutting technologies to flight readiness status for future space missions. Through these indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, NASA intends to provide frequent flight opportunities for payloads on suborbital platforms.

The Flight Opportunities Program is managed at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. For more information on the program, visit:  http://flightopportunities.nasa.gov

Editor’s Note:  This list includes the usual suspects (Armadillo, Virgin Galactic, XCOR, et.al.) along with a couple of lesser known companies: Near Space Corp. and Whittinghill Aerospace LLC.

Near Space specializes in high-altitude stratospheric balloon operations.  The company offers its High Altitude Shuttle System (HASS), a vehicle that is lofted by balloon up to altitudes of 100,000 feet. HASS is capable of staying at high altitudes with payloads of 15 kg. for hours or even days at a time.

Whittinghill Aerospace's nanosat launcher

Whittinghill Aerospace has been developing a four-stage nanosat launch vehicle that is composed of a cluster of identical N2O-fed hybrid rocket propulsion modules.  The company has received funding through NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. According to a briefing chart done for the program:

“NASA applications include dedicated small satellite and sounding rocket launch operations, low-cost strap-on boosters for existing vehicles, upper stage kick motors, and air-launched accelerator stages for air breathing applications.

“Non-NASA applications include commercial satellite and sounding rocket launch operations, university and student launch operations, high-performance storable tactical vehicles for defense department use, and target vehicles for intercept exercises.”

The company is owned by George Whittinghill, an MIT graduate who was formerly chief technologist for Virgin Galactic, CTO at Space Launch Corporation, and a flight crew instructor at NASA.  The company is based in Camarillo, Calif.