GREENBELT, Md. — A groundbreaking technology that would allow NASA to effectively cool tightly packed instrument electronics and other spaceflight gear is unaffected by weightlessness, and could be used on a future spaceflight mission.
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Flight Opportunities program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate has selected 25 promising space technologies for testing aboard aircraft, high-altitude balloons and suborbital rockets. These flights will expose the payloads to the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight at lower cost and risk than orbital missions. They also give researchers the data they need to refine and mature their innovations for possible infusion into NASA missions to the Moon and beyond.
Today, Sept. 27, marks the 15th anniversary of Richard Branson announcing the launch of Virgin Galactic Airways. It’s been a long, winding road between that day and today, filled with many broken promises, missed deadlines, fatal accidents and a pair of spaceflights.
This year actually marks a double anniversary: it’s been 20 years since Branson registered the company and began searching for a vehicle the company could use to fly tourists into suborbital space.
Below is a timeline of the important events over that period.
By Nicole Quenelle NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center
MOJAVE, Calif., September 13, 2019 (NASA PR) — When Apollo 11’s lunar module, Eagle, landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, it first flew over an area littered with boulders before touching down at the Sea of Tranquility. The site had been selected based on photos collected over two years as part of the Lunar Orbiter program.
But the “sensors” that ensured Eagle was in a safe spot before
touching down – those were the eyes of NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong.
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — In late 2018, Flight Opportunities welcomed John Kelly back to the program in the role of program manager. We sat down with John to get his thoughts on how the program has changed over the years, and his goals moving forward.
You originally worked with the Flight Opportunities program as program manager back in 2010. How has the program changed since then?
Initially, Flight Opportunities matched technology payloads to commercial vehicles. We’ve now moved to a principal investigator (PI)-oriented model where recipients of a NASA Tech Flights award have the opportunity to identify a suitable commercial vehicle and engage directly with the flight provider to execute their flight testing. These vehicles are adding to the breadth of flight profiles and capabilities that PIs have access to and the data they can gather to help mature their technologies. This new PI-centric model and the increasing number of commercial vehicles combine to give Flight Opportunities the promise of attracting a healthy supply of promising technologies. These innovations will in turn contribute to NASA’s goals as well as the expansion of space commerce.
Can you share how your vision for the program is beginning to take shape?
It is my vision to maintain a healthy supply of high-quality technologies coming in to the program pipeline that can help NASA achieve its mission objectives. The latest Tech Flights solicitation provides for a significant increase in individual award amounts. This should generate a higher quantity of proposals, resulting in more high-quality technologies entering the program. With a steady supply of technologies ready to fly, Flight Opportunities is also poised to successfully stimulate transactions in the commercial space market — an objective of the program.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the commercial space community at the moment?
The challenge is to determine the true size of the marketplace, which will in turn determine the number of viable suppliers. Commercial suborbital flight providers offer services that NASA needs to perform payload testing, and NASA will continue to consume those services so long as they are provided.
>And the greatest opportunity?
With NASA’s renewed emphasis on returning to the Moon, as well as a manned mission to Mars, commercial suborbital flight providers have an opportunity to serve the technology development community to help us get there. Commercial providers are ideally positioned to get those technologies up the readiness curve prior to infusion into NASA’s missions to the Moon and Mars.
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — From November 13 to 16, Zero Gravity Corporation’s G-FORCE ONE modified 727 completed its latest parabolic research flight campaign for Flight Opportunities. Seven NASA-supported technology payloads were demonstrated during the campaign’s four flights.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The nation’s sights are set on returning to and exploring the Moon, and advanced technology will lead the way. Four new technology-focused NASA solicitations give researchers and U.S. companies the opportunity to study, develop and test capabilities for future missions. These investments in revolutionary technologies fuel tomorrow’s innovation and space economy. (more…)
Helping to mature space technology while bolstering the commercial space industry.
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — One of the goals of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program is a thriving private-sector space industry that supports innovative new technologies of interest to NASA. Such a marketplace promises to advance the Agency’s exploration goals and provide a wellspring from which NASA can draw resources and expertise, while providing them, in turn, to industry.
“We’re encouraging an industry that has potential to lower the cost and increase the speed of access to space,” says Christopher Baker, program executive for Flight Opportunities. “Additionally, we help validate technologies before they go on to applications in Earth orbit or deep space.”
NASA has received a $21.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2019, which is $736.86 million above FY 2018 and $1.6 billion above the total requested by the Trump Administration.
The funding, which came more than four months into the fiscal year, was included in an appropriations bill signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. NASA’s budget has been on an upward trajectory over the last few years. In FY 2018, the space agency received an $1.64 billion increase over the previous year.
A fledgling industry of rocket and balloon companies is taking science and technology experiments into space-like environments.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — At the edge of space, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, extremely cold, near-vacuum conditions can be an ideal proving ground for space-related science and technology experiments.
“Earth’s atmosphere can interfere with the ability to do certain types of research, and at this height, you’re above a large majority of it,” says Andrew Antonio, director of marketing at World View, a Tucson, Arizona–based company that sends research and other high-altitude balloons into the space-like stratosphere, which he says offers an affordable environment for some space-related research.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A test tube drifting in midair and a computer tablet slowly turning are fun moments for the scientists who experience brief periods of weightlessness during parabolic flights. However, the science that’s taking place is no joke. NASA’s Flight Opportunities program makes it possible for U.S. researchers to take experiments out of their laboratories and into zero gravity for some for serious research with a bit of levity.
NMPolitics.net is reporting that there were about 40 layoffs from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company earlier this month as they prepare to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman confirmed the layoffs in a statement via email.
Recently we separated a small number of our team in order to position our organization for the drive to commercial operations following our successful recent spaceflight, and make room for new skill sets that we need to bring in over the course of this year. In total we separated around 40 people, less than 5% of our total workforce across Virgin Galactic and TSC. We are offering support to those impacted and sincerely thank them for their contributions, and wish them well for the future.
The news comes on the heels of a decision by SpaceX to lay off about 10 percent of its roughly 6,000 employees. Stratolaunch, which like Virgin Galactic is based in Mojave, announced last week that it was laying off about 50 employees as it down scaled plans for boosters to air launch from its massive aircraft.
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Suborbital space is the perfect environment for researchers to test experiments, edging them closer to inclusion on future exploration and science missions. NASA’s Flight Opportunities program gives researchers this access, funding flights on Blue Origin and other commercial providers.
VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-10) is currently targeting liftoff tomorrow at 8:30 am CST / 14:30 UTC. This will be the 10th New Shepard mission and is dedicated to bringing nine NASA-sponsored research and technology payloads into space through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. (more…)