NASA Seeks Input on New ‘Tech Flights’ Solicitation that Allows for Human-tended Suborbital Payloads

New Shepard capsule descending under parachutes. (Credit: Blue Origin)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Suborbital spaceflight is valuable for testing and fine-tuning innovative technologies for future missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has tested more than 150 different space technologies in relevant environments aboard suborbital rockets, rocket-powered spacecraft, high-altitude balloons and aircraft with reduced-gravity flight profiles.

The 2020 “Tech Flights” solicitation includes something new that will let researchers from industry and academia accompany their payloads on suborbital flights conducted under grants from the NASA solicitation. NASA is seeking comments from the suborbital research community and prospective flight providers on the proposed implementation of this new policy.

“Human-tended payloads on suborbital flights is something NASA has considered for a long time,” said the Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Jim Reuter. “Now that commercial suborbital vehicles are quickly approaching their inaugural flights with passengers in addition to payloads, NASA is preparing to take advantage of what they have to offer our research community.”

While no commercial suborbital flight provider has flown guest researchers to date, the 2020 solicitation aims to lay the foundation for researchers to propose the option of accompanying their payload to space when it could benefit their experiments and data collection.

“We’ve seen the benefits of hands-on experimentation in reduced gravity for technology testing aboard aircraft,” said Christopher Baker, the Flight Opportunities program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re open to the research community’s ideas on the use of human interaction with payloads during suborbital flight.”

Since the policy allowing suborbital spaceflight participants under NASA grants will require some new coordination between the proposing institutions and the commercial suborbital industry, NASA has issued a draft solicitation for comments on the mechanics of that interaction and other new provisions in the research announcement.

Comments on the draft solicitation are due Feb. 14, 2020. NASA plans to issue the final solicitation a few weeks after the comment period closes.

About Flight Opportunities

The Flight Opportunities program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

For more information about NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, visit:

www.nasa.gov/flightopportunities