Tech

February 19, 2014

Flight Opportunities Program busy in 2013; even more so in 2014

An exterior camera on the forward portion of UP Aerospace’ SL-8 sounding rocket captures this spectacular view of the Earth’s horizon during its flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program last November.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate accomplished its busiest year in 2013 since its inception in late 2010, and 2014 promises to be even busier.

The program enabled flight validation of 35 technologies that were tested in space-like environments on four different flight platforms during the year. There were five parabolic flight campaigns on the Zero-G airplane, five flights of the Near Space Corporation’s high-altitude balloon, four vertical takeoff, vertical landing flights on vehicles from Masten Space Systems and two launches on suborbital rockets provided by UP Aerospace, Inc.

The Flight Opportunities Program, managed by NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., will be funding numerous flights by sub-orbital vehicles and aircraft during 2014 to flight-validate a variety of technologies that could prove useful to NASA and other agencies for future space exploration missions. At this time, 19 parabolic and 17 sub-orbital payloads have been manifested for flight. Up to 29 additional payloads could be flown, once they are ready for flight or a launch vehicle is available.

A Near Space Corporation balloon lifts the firm’s small HASS shuttle glider during a test flight in 2013.

Current flight providers include UP Aerospace (sounding rockets), Near Space Corporation (high-altitude balloons, the HASS glider), Masten Space Systems (rocket-propelled vertical-launch, vertical-landing vehicles), Zero-G Corporation (modified Boeing 727 aircraft for reduced-gravity parabolic flights) and Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo rocket-propelled horizontal landing sub-orbital vehicle). The Flight Opportunities Program will be issuing a new contract for flight providers this year.

Among the earliest technology flight validations on the 2014 schedule is an automated spacecraft landing system payload from Astrobotic Technology Inc. of Pittsburgh that is tentatively slated to be tested on Masten Space Systems XA-0.1B “Xombie” suborbital reusable launch vehicle in February. Astrobotic’s landing system may enable future unmanned spacecraft to land on the moon or the rocky and hazardous terrain of an asteroid.

Following completion of sub-orbital flight testing, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is tentatively scheduled to carry technology payloads for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program later this year.
 

Masten Space Systems’ Xombie technology demonstration test bed ascends into the Mojave Desert sky from the Mojave Air and Space Port during a March 2013 flight to validate Draper Labs’ GENIE flight control system.

 

A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth’s horizon can be seen at lower right.




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