Commercial Suborbital Flights and Vehicle Development

Dr. Alan Stern
Dr. Alan Stern

Some notes from today’s Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference concerning upcoming flights and vehicle development. In this report: Southwest Research Institute, XCOR, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Blue Origin and Teachers in Space.

Southwest Research Institute – Alan Stern

  • Eight flights on XCOR and Virgin Galactic vehicles, with options for up to 17 missions
  • SwRI scientists will fly after XCOR and Virgin Galactic have FAA licenses
  • XCOR flights will be on Lynx Mark I (maximum altitude of 61 kilometers)
  • Expect that flights will have occurred by the 2013 Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference
  • Previously spent nearly a decade to fly seven microgravity experiments; will be able to do eight flights within a year
  • Three experiments already prepared for suborbital flights
  • Flights will involve a “significant number of experiments”
  • Putting scientists back in the loop on experiments — less remote control
  • Scientists on board reduce the cost of automation, they can react to data on a real-time basis and make changes


Air Force Vet Appointed as NM Spaceport Authority Executive Director

SANTA FE – Governor Susana Martinez announced today that the Spaceport Authority Board of Directors has named Christine Anderson as Executive Director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. Anderson previously served for 30 years in civilian positions with the United States Air Force, including several years at New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base.


Virgin Galactic Plans Engine Test Soon

Notes from a press conference and session in which Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceflight plans were discussed.

Virgin Galactic – CEO George Whitesides

SpaceShipTwo Engine Development

  • Preparing to do a 40-second burn on SS2 engine
  • full flight requires about 70-sec burn.
  • Showed video that appears to show same engine footage released in 2009
  • Progress is ongoing, don’t release information about all tests

Test Flight Program and Schedule

  • 49 WhiteKnightTwo flights
  • 4 SpaceShipTwo glide flights
  • Additional glide flights upcoming
  • Powered flights later this year
  • Hope for suborbital flights later this year or early 2012
  • Commercial flights will depend on success of testing and FAA licensing
  • Safety is the “North Star” of Virgin Galactic
  • May eventually fly students and teachers in space — great for STEM education

SwRI’s Space Flights by the Numbers: 8 to 17 by 3

SwRI PR — Bolder, Colorado — February 28, 2011 — 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.


Space Show Covers Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference

The Space Show for this week….

SPECIAL TIME: Monday, Feb. 28, 2011 6:30-7:30 PM PST: Live from the Next Gen Suborbital Conference in Orlando, Florida, our guests are David McBride (Director, NASA Dryden Spaceflight Center where CRuSR is managed) and Dr. Alan Stern (NSRC meeting organizer).

SPECIAL TIME: Tuesday, March 1, 2011, 5:00-6:00 PM PST: Live from the Net Gen Suborbital Conference in Orlando, Florida, our guests are Brett Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic.

SPECIAL TIME: Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 5-6PM PST: Live from the Next Gen Suborbital Conference in Orlando, our guests are Dr. Alan Stern & Cindy Conrad. We will be wrapping up the conference and more with our two conference guests.

Friday, March 4, 2011, 9:30-11AM PST: We welcome back Max Vozoff who is now a consultant in commercial space and crew Business Development after having been part of the SpaceX team for five years.

Sunday, March 6, 2011, 12-1:30 PM PST: We welcome back Chris Carberry, Executive Director of to talk about new programming and outreach with

XCOR Announces Suborbital Payload Integration Network

XCOR PR — February 28th, 2011, Orlando, FL, USA: 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.


Astrogenetix Continues Work on Staphylococcus Vaccine on Discovery

Astrogenetix PR — NASA astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery’s final mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will carry out the eleventh scientific payload for Astrogenetix, a commercial biotech company based out of Austin, Texas. The research on STS-133 will focus on changes that occur to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in microgravity, which can be targeted to create new vaccines and therapeutics.


Suborbital Experiment Integrator Announcement Expected

Charles Lurio, author of The Lurio Report, says that there will be an announcement today concerning suborbital payload integration at the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference:
Announcement of Global Network of Suborbital Experiment Integrators – I hear that on Monday, February 28 at the NSRC a global network of 6-10 payload integration partners will be announced for one of the new suborbital vehicles.
The sessions start in a couple of hours. Look for updates here and on Twitter @spacecom.

SwRI’s Lynx and SSTwo Flights: A Comparison

The Southwest Research Institute has signed deals with both XCOR and Virgin Galactic to fly research scientists on the Lynx and SpaceShipTwo vehicles, respectively. Both deals are being touted as historic firsts for emerging industry. Are they both right? Yes, actually.

Confused? Let me explain.


SwRI Makes Deposits on Virgin Galactic Flights

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

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.

As part of the contract announced today, SwRI has made full deposits for two researchers to fly on Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, with the intent to make similar arrangements for an additional six seats for a total value of $1.6m. As well as flying its own researchers, who will carry scientific experiments developed by its in-house technical staff, SwRI also aims to assist American researchers who do not have direct spaceflight experience to develop and fly their payloads and personnel on suborbital missions.


First Report From Orlando

The Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference kicked off tonight with a reception at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. There was muchnetworking accomplished and alcohol and food consumed, although not necessarily in that order.

It looks like it will be an interesting couple of days. It seems that the Southwest Research Institute’s decision to purchase six flights on XCOR’s Lynx is only part of the story. The full scope of the work will be revealed tomorrow. Not clear what that exactly means, but stay tuned here and at @spacecom.  There is a press conference on Monday afternoon that may answer those questions.

Greetings from Orlando

Hi all. After a long cross country trip I am in Orlando to cover the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference through Wednesday. Look for updates here and on Twiter @spacecom.

Pentagon Looks to Launch Experiments on Commercial Rockets

ULA's Atlas V

Pentagon Considering Commercial Launches for Space Experiments
Space News

On the heels of its successful November launch, the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program has begun planning  a mission that could involve hosting military experiments on commercial satellites or hitching a ride to space on a commercial launch vehicle.

The Space Test Program at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., organizes space launches for experiments developed by many government agencies. The most recent STP-S26 mission crammed seven small satellites atop a Minotaur 4 rocket and demonstrated numerous technologies that the military may incorporate into future operational missions.


Yuri’s Night Launches Sweepstakes, Ad Competition

YN PR — Washington, DC — Yuri’s Night is excited to commemorate the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight by launching two contests: the “Call to Humanity” Space Exploration Ad Competition, which calls on talented graphic designers, artists, and other creative individuals to create a powerful and inspiring print campaign that will move people to think about and support humanity’s future in space, and the “International Space Sweepstakes,” a free global drawing.