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NASA Selects 7 Companies for Suborbital Research Flights

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 9, 2011

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:

Editor’s Note:  This list includes the usual suspects (Armadillo, Virgin Galactic, XCOR, 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.

One response to “NASA Selects 7 Companies for Suborbital Research Flights”

  1. Joyce Compton says:

    Dear Doug Messier,
    Thanks you for your post Ever since I got my first Lego set around 4-5 years old, I have been obsessed with engineering and science in general. At around age 7 I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut, and since then I have done everything I possibly could to make that a reality. (Summer camps, science clubs, robot teams, etc.)

    Now I’m 19 years old attending college at the University of Texas in Arlington. I am working on my degree in Aerospace Engineering, and hope to obtain a doctorate within 10 years. Kalpana Chawla (one of the seven crew members aboard the Columbia in 2003) obtained a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1984 from UTA, so I feel that I am on the right path so far.

    But now what do I do?

    I have asked many people around campus, and spoken with my academic adviser… no one has given me a very concrete answer.

    The responses are mostly “stick with the aerospace degree program” or “look around for internships” etc. Well, I have, but I don’t feel that is enough to get me where I want to go.

    The internships/co-ops I have found online are very broad, none of them really say “this will help you be an astronaut… click here to apply” even on the NASA website. A lot of companies are also looking for students a little further along in their degrees such as juniors and seniors. I am only a freshman in my first semester of college, but a few companies I spoke with at the Intern/co-op job fair were taking freshmen of my status. So, even though I am limited at the moment, I know there are still a few opportunities out there for me now. Does anyone know of any good Internships that will help me reach my goal?

    Also, I have noticed that many of the astronauts that were selected recently had some type of government background as well (like working for the CIA and such) Will a strictly science path work for my career choice? Or do I need some experience with the government too? If so, how do I go about doing this?

    I run and work out daily; I eat NO processed foods, junk food, carbonated drinks, caffeine, etc. I keep my body VERY healthy.

    Does anybody have any advice that will help me reach my goals? I want to know as much as I can before I get too far ahead down the wrong path. I am a freshman in my first semester at college, so if I need to change something, now is the time.

    Thank you all!!!

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