Window for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flight Opens Dec. 11

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

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NASA Awards Flight & Integration Services Contracts to Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

EDWARDS, Calif., November 30, 2020 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Virgin Galactic LLC of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California, to provide flight and integration services for payloads chosen by the agency’s Flight Opportunities program, which is managed at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The two companies join four others to provide service under commercial indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts with NASA.

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NASA Flight Opportunities Program PI Spotlight: Kevin Crosby

Kevin Crosby during a microgravity flight on G-FORCE ONE airplane.

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — With a half-dozen Flight Opportunities campaigns under his belt (including one currently underway — see Flights section above), Carthage College professor Kevin Crosby understands the value of the program. Through flight testing, he has been able to raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of his slosh control and propellant gauging technologies for spacecraft.

As head of the school’s Space Sciences program, Crosby blends his development of these technologies with powerful learning opportunities for his students. We spoke with Crosby about what he has learned during his years of flight testing and how those lessons apply to both students and the research community as a whole. 

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Keeping Spacecraft on Course with Propellant Management Technologies

Carthage students Taylor Peterson (left) and Celestine Ananda are shown here observing the gauging of unsettled liquids during a period of microgravity on a flight with ZERO-G in November 2018. (Credits: Carthage College)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

Rocket off course? It could be a slosh problem.

Propellant slosh, to be exact. The motion of propellant inside a rocket-based launch vehicle or spacecraft tank is an ever-present, vexing problem for spaceflight. Not only can it make gauging the amount of available propellant difficult, but the volatile waves of liquid can literally throw a rocket off its trajectory.

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NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program Partners with EPSCoR, Launches Community Learning Initiative

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Flight Opportunities has partnered with NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program to provide access to suborbital flight tests for the EPSCoR community.

Through an amendment to the existing 2021 EPSCoR International Space Station (ISS) Flight Opportunity solicitation, EPSCoR jurisdictions will be able to propose using suborbital flights to further their EPSCoR-funded research.

Proposals are due by January 7, 2021. Visit NSPIRES for more details.

Flight Opportunities Community Learning Initiative

The new Flight Opportunities Community Learning initiative is an effort to capture, organize, and communicate the lessons and experiences of suborbital researchers.

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The Perils and Promise of Dust on the Moon

Xodiac (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Think your home could use a bit of a sweep? Fret not – your hardwoods are nothing compared to the Moon. Its surface is so notoriously dusty that the desert here on Earth is the environment of choice for testing dust-related technologies bound for lunar missions.

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NASA Selects Promising Purdue Space Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests

Steven Collicott, Purdue University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, shown here in zero gravity, will have four projects under grants.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Faculty members in Purdue University’s schools of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Mechanical Engineering are among a list of 28 researchers whose technologies have been selected to receive funding under NASA’s Tech Flights solicitation.

Steven Collicott , professor of aeronautics and astronautics, will receive four separate grants totaling $1.8 million for four different experiments. Issam Mudawar, the Betty Ruth and Milton B. Hollander Family Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will receive one grant in the amount of $649,851.

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NASA Selects 31 Promising Space Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

NASA has selected 31 promising space technologies for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems. By exposing the innovations to many of the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight – without the expense of an orbital flight – NASA can help ensure these technologies work correctly when they are deployed on future missions.

“By supporting suborbital flight testing, our Flight Opportunities  program aims to help ensure that these innovations are well-positioned to address challenges and enable NASA to achieve its lunar ambitions, while also contributing to a growing and vibrant commercial space industry,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The Flight Opportunities program is part of STMD.

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SwRI Planetary Scientist Alan Stern to Fly With Experiments on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, October 14, 2020 (SwRI PR) — 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.

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Testing Super Foods for Space and More on Blue Origin Suborbital Flight

The microgravity LilyPond growth chamber uses capillary action to provide a stable water surface on which duckweed (and potentially other veggies, like microgreens) can grow. LED panels provide an efficient light source, and a salad spinner-like sieve helps separate the water from the plants when ready to harvest. (Credits: Space Lab Technologies)

Duckweed: it’s what’s for dinner

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

EDWARDS, Calif. — It’s no surprise to most of us that regularly eating fresh produce is a great way to support a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables benefit astronauts on the International Space Station, too – and soon the Moon and beyond. Scientists are investigating sustainable ways to grow highly nutritious foods in microgravity, to give space explorers a readily available supply of daily greens.

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NASA Tipping Point Partnership with Blue Origin to Test Precision Lunar Landing Technologies

by Clare Skelly
NASA Headquarters

WASHINGTON — From the rim of Shackleton crater to permanently shadowed regions on the Moon, a NASA-developed sensor suite could allow robotic and crewed missions to land precisely on the lunar surface within an area about half the size of a football field.

Technologies to enable exact and soft landings on the Moon and other worlds will fly on Blue Origin’s next New Shepard suborbital rocket launch, currently targeted for 11:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 24. The company’s live launch webcast will start at 10:30 a.m. and air on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

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Blue Origin Schedules Next New Shepard Launch for Thursday

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 on May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Next New Shepard Launch Will Test Key Technologies with NASA for Returning to the Moon 

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-13) is currently targeting liftoff for Thursday, September 24, at 10:00 am CDT / 15:00 UTC. Current weather conditions are favorable. This will be the 13th New Shepard mission and the 7th consecutive flight for this particular vehicle (a record), demonstrating its operational reusability. 

You can watch the launch live at BlueOrigin.com. The pre-show begins at T-30 minutes and will provide mission details, including a special update from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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Lander Simulation Testing Helps Advance NASA Navigation Spinoff

Xodiac rocket tests technology to enable precision landing on the moon. (Credits: Lauren Hughes)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — A navigation doppler lidar (NDL) technology originally developed by NASA was demonstrated on a flight test on Sept. 10 with support from the Flight Opportunities program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

With roots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the technology was licensed in 2016 by Psionic for both terrestrial and space applications, and both the company and Langley continue to evolve and advance the innovation for upcoming lunar missions.

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How do we get There from Here? With Suborbital Flight Testing

Image shows Trona Pinnacles near California’s NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center during Jan. 31 Super Blue Blood Moon. Trona Pinnacles is an unusual geological feature of the state’s Desert National Conservation. (Credits: NASA / Lauren Hughes)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Standing here on Earth, on a clear night we can look to the sky and see the destination for NASA’s Artemis program: the Moon. Seemingly close, but still quite far. Yet the space between us and that source of fascination is ripe with possibilities for helping mature the technologies we will need to get there, stay there, and venture beyond to Mars.

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JPL’s Terrain-Relative Navigation Technology Set to Launch on Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover

NASA Press Release

The Technology

Terrain-Relative Navigation (TRN) technology from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) enables pin-point landing and large hazard avoidance for crewed and robotic lander vehicles. A camera captures images during vehicle descent, which are subsequently matched to orbital maps stored onboard the lander. Matching images to multiple known terrain features enables automated determination of the lander’s position relative to the terrain.

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