NASA declared on October 14 that it picked a proposed experiment by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and included it in NASA’s Flight Opportunities program for testing technologies on suborbital aircraft and vehicles.
FREMONT, CA: NASA has chosen its first human-tended commercial suborbital research payload, creating an opportunity for the biggest advocate of such research to fly on a future Virgin Galactic mission.
NASA declared on October 14 that it picked a proposed experiment by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and included it in NASA’s Flight Opportunities program for testing technologies on suborbital aircraft and vehicles. That experiment would test the operation of a camera that is aimed to work at low light levels in order to see how it could be utilized for astronomical imaging, and also a separate set of biomedical sensors.
What makes this experiment unique among the other 30 payloads NASA selected in this new round of the Flight Opportunities program, along with those picked in previous rounds, is that the payload would include a human. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and associate vice president at SwRI, is expected to go on a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight, operating the camera and wearing the biomedical sensors.
NASA declared in January that it is ready to permit researchers to fly with their payloads. Jim Reuter, NASA associate administrator for space technology, who supervises the Flight Opportunities program, stated at the time that flying researchers are being demonstrated, such as in Virgin Galactic’s test flight program.
For a long time now, Stern has been a leading advocate for commercial suborbital research in general, and flying researchers particularly. Stern arranged a series of conferences on the subject beginning in 2010, and the most recent one took place in March. SwRI has paid deposits for multiple seats on both SpaceShipTwo and now-defunct XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital vehicle.
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