2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.

Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)


Four NASA Sponsored Experiments Fly Aboard Spaceport America Sounding Rocket

SL-9 launch (Credit: Spaceport America)
SL-9 launch (Credit: Spaceport America)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NASA PR) — Four NASA sponsored experiments were provided nearly four minutes of microgravity flight and testing after UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft rocket SL-9 soared into suborbital space from Spaceport America outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico on Thursday.

While flying on suborbital launch vehicles in zero gravity, experimental technologies are briefly exposed to the space environment where they are expected to operate.


Sounding Rocket Launched at Spaceport America

SL-9 launch (Credit: Spaceport America)
SL-9 launch (Credit: Spaceport America)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM – New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) officials announced the launch today of the third NASA “Flight Opportunities Program” rocket from Spaceport America. The launch of SpaceLoft™ XL 9 (SL-9), which was designed to reach sub-orbital space, took place this morning from Spaceport America’s Launch Complex-1. Today’s liftoff marks the 21st launch at Spaceport America and the 13th flight conducted by UP Aerospace, the spaceport’s oldest launch customer. NASA successfully launched two similar research rockets from the spaceport last year.


Satwest to Launch First Texts To Space

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, USA (SatWest PR) –
Satwest, one of the world’s first commercial suborbital research and development companies, is partnering with Bosque School, working with the school’s Physics II lab, in order to send the world’s first texts into space.

Satwest, in partnership with private spaceflight company UP Aerospace, will launch a rocket carrying Satwest’s communication payload on Nov. 12 at Spaceport America located near Truth or Consequences, NM. The students will be following the mission via the hashtag #TextsToSpace. Once a specific altitude is achieved, a series of thirty texts will be issued by the students, and tweeted live throughout the event. Once the craft has returned to earth, a recovery team will return the rocket to Spaceport America. Satwest will retrieve the payload, and confirm receipt of the Bosque texts.


Flight Opportunities Program Flight Set for October

UPDATE 2:  The flight has been rescheduled for Nov. 12.  This post has been revised to include a sixth experiment by Satwest.

UPDATE:  Due to the government shutdown, this launch has been postponed.  A new date will be set after the government is up and running again.

The NASA Flight Opportunities Program next launch campaign will take place on Oct. 9 at Spaceport America in New Mexico. A SpaceLoft XL will test six technologies on a suborbital flight.

Descriptions of the payloads and the launch vehicle follow after the break.


New Mexico Students Fly Experiments into Space

LAS CRUCES, NM (NMSGC PR) — The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium today successfully completed its fifth Student Launch Program launch event from Spaceport America near Las Cruces, N.M. More than 60 NASA Summer of Innovation students and teachers watched as four primary experiments were propelled into space aboard a SpaceLoft-5 rocket, provided by UP Aerospace. Additional university experiments and other items were also on the rocket, which reached an altitude of approximately 74 miles and experienced 17 Gs of force at a speed of Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound at approximately 3,800 mph).


NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program Flies Experiments into Space

Successful launch of SL-7 from Spaceport America on June 21, 2013. (Credit: Spaceport America)
Successful launch of SL-7 from Spaceport America on June 21, 2013. (Credit: Spaceport America)

Spaceport America, NM (NMSA PR) – New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) officials announced the launch today of the first NASA “Flight Opportunities Program” rocket designed to reach sub-orbital space. The public launch of SpaceLoft™ XL 7 (S-7) took place this morning from Spaceport America’s Launch Complex-1. This launch marks the 11th flight since 2006 at Spaceport America conducted by UP Aerospace and the 19th overall flight from the spaceport.


UP Aerospace Flight Opportunities Program Mission Set for Friday

sl7-mission-patchThe NASA Flight Opportunities Program’s first fully manifested flight with UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft system is coming up this Friday June 21. The flight manifest consists of 7 payloads selected through our program.

Launch of the suborbital SpaceLoft XL rocket from Spaceport America in New Mexico is scheduled between 7-10 a.m. MST (9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EDT/6 a.m. to 9 a.m. PDT).

Payload No.
PI/Organization Description/Objective
1T0001PS — Suborbital Flight Environment Monitor (SFEM)Payload POC: Karolyn Ronzano,
The Suborbital Flight Environment Monitor (SFEM) is a compact, selfcontained payload that will monitor and record on board environmental parameters of interest during a sRLV flight. These include 3axis accelerations and G-loads, ambient pressure, relative humidity and temperature. The SFEM uses commercially available instruments. The SFEM is completely autonomous and doesn’t require any operator interface during flight.
2T0002S — Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADSB)Payload POC: Nickolas Demidovich
The Automatic Dependent Surveillance  Broadcast (ADSB) is a cooperative surveillance technique for air traffic control and related applications being developed by the FAA as part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Current plans will require all aircraft and other flight vehicles operatng within US airspace to be equipped with ADSB by 2020. The objective is to demonstrate functionality of the ADSB system when applied to CRuSR flight profiles. NASA is supporting the FAA in this demonstration.
3T0019S — DiapasonPayload POC: Orazio Chiarenza
The experiment tests a simple instrument (DIAPASON) for the study of nano particle migration and capture, achieved by very small thermal gradients. The particles range from 1 micron to 1/1000 of micron. This range allows the monitoring of combustion generated pollution, the analysis of hostile environments, and the identification of atmospheric contaminants.
4T0069S — ORS Global Positioning Beacon (GPB)Payload POC: Jason Armstrong
Provides GPS raw data as position source to FAA ADSB payload. 2 Patch Antennas (will be located at access panels on avionics section) 2 Low Noise Amplifiers 1 Signal
5T0071S #1 — New Mexico Space Grant (NMSG Student Payload #1)Payload POC: Kristi Burden
New Mexico Space Grant Miscellaneous High School Science Payloads. 3 experiments – 1) Algae, Triops, & yeast – spaceflight effects on algae. 2) Algae survivabilitycompared w/control sample. 3) Flexible form factor – survivability of 3 different form factors.
6T0071S #2 — New Mexico Space Grant (NMSG Student Payload #2)Payload POC: Kristi Burden
New Mexico Space Grant Miscellaneous High School Science Payloads. 4 experiments  1) Algae survival – pre & post flight cell count. 2) Flexible form factor – Nomex & GoreTex to contain water. 3) Bean plant survival – growth rate effect. 4) Power & Data collection – using a common data & power bus.
7T0077S — Facility for Microgravity Research &Submicroradian
Payload POC: Scott Green
Inertial measurement unit (IMU) and data logger. Records the linear acceleration and angular rate environment throughout flight with high quality inertial sensors. Automatically configures and starts logging 1200Hz IMU data when power is applied. Startup configuration time is 1minute. Logs 10 hours of IMU data into a circular buffer on an SD flash memory card.


UP Aerospace to Launch Experiments at Spaceport America on June 21

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority is excited to host a NASA Flight Opportunities Program launch conducted by UP Aerospace, Inc., at the Spaceport America Vertical Launch Complex on Friday, June 21. This will be the first sub-orbital NASA Flight Opportunities Program launch, and the 19th overall launch from Spaceport America.

The sub-orbital sounding rocket launch is part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which is designed to provide suborbital payload launch opportunities for NASA and other government agencies, as well as for educational institutions and the private sector.


SpaceLoft XL to Launch ORS Payloads from Spaceport America

by Michael P. Kleiman
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — The SpaceLoft-6 sounding rocket will launch April 5, 2012, at Spaceport America, in Upham, N.M., with seven payloads, crucial for future Operationally Responsive Space missions, demonstrating its dependability and resilience during a 13-minute, 70-mile-high trek.

The ORS director explained the mission’s significance.

“One of the ways we prove space-based range technologies of tracking the rocket through flight, knowing where it is at all times in case the flight has to be terminated due to trajectory issues, is to get multiple flights to validate that the systems work in flight. Orbital flights are rare and costly, so one of the ways we are getting that flight heritage is by flying these technologies on small sounding rockets, which is much more inexpensive and easier,” said Dr. Peter Wegner.


U.S. Military Takes Step Toward Rapid Spacecraft Construction and Launch

UP Aerospace's SpaceLoft vehicle

One of the goals of the U.S. military is to be able to quickly build and launch payloads into space in order to respond to situations that might arise. The military took a step toward that goal with an experiment earlier this month in New Mexico.


The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office participated in the successful launch of the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket from Spaceport America carrying a payload built in less than one week. The launch took place on May 4 at approximately 6:45 a.m. MDT.

“I applaud the launch and payload teams and am pleased that the ORS payload provided yet another demonstration of our enablers of rapid spacecraft build, integration, test and launch,” said Dr. Peter Wegner, Director, ORS Office. “This launch proved to be a very cost effective way to demonstrate key ORS enabling models of rapid development and build of a payload, integration and test of the payload, and identification and assurance of payload technical readiness. We continue to address the military’s need for responsive, affordable and flexible space systems by using off the shelf components to support a variety of future missions,” added Wegner.


Spaceport America Rocket Failed to Reach Space

UP Aerospace Spaceloft XL rocket lifts off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on May 2, 2009.
UP Aerospace Spaceloft XL rocket lifts off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on May 2, 2009.

Officials are investigating why a suborbital UP Aerospace rocket launched on Saturday from New Mexico failed to reach space.

The SpaceLoft XL rocket – packed with experiments and the ashes of 16 people – failed to reach its 70-mile target altitude. It’s not clear what altitude the vehicle reached. The payload did separate from the booster and landed by parachute.


Education Launch Successful at Spaceport America


Today’s successful launch of the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket for the SL-3 Education launch is another successful step in developing the world’s first commercial spaceport. Spaceport America and the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium created history with this first annual Education Launch that provided New Mexico students the opportunity to design and launch scientific experiments into space.