Space

March 26, 2014

NASA seeks suborbital flight services proposals for technology demonstrations

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.

NASA is seeking proposals from U.S. commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicle providers to integrate and fly technology payloads for the space agency.

NASA uses companies for suborbital flights to encourage and facilitate the growth of this important aerospace market while also providing a means to advance a wide range of new launch vehicle and space technologies.

NASA successfully selected seven companies in 2011 to provide these commercial services. Since then, the agency has selected 69 technology demonstration payloads requesting suborbital flights and has sponsored 25 commercial payload-flights. This new competition hopes to establish a pool of companies capable of providing flight opportunities to a variety of program-sponsored payloads by awarding contracts to multiple vendors.

“America’s pioneering efforts in opening up near space – from Earth to the edge of space – for testing new space technologies has taken off and continues to soar,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’ve helped seed this emerging commercial market while also gaining return to the taxpayer on advanced technology development. This new call for commercial providers will help the industry continue to grow while providing a valuable service to NASA and the nation.”

The selected platforms may include suborbital reusable launch vehicles capable of flying to altitudes above 62 miles, as well as high-altitude balloons. The flights will expose the payloads to reduced gravity and near-space environments.

Technology flights are expected to reduce risks associated with emerging technologies and procedures, and overall space operations in future missions, by demonstrating their applications in a relevant environment.

NASA plans on contracting for single payload positions on pre-approved platforms, then pay for space as used. This is a cost-effective way to enable flight testing of new technologies while taking advantage of available space on the best platforms for a given technology. NASA also may choose to fly multiple technologies on a single suborbital flight platform.

The program will accept proposals from companies who have operational vehicles, or those that have conducted test and evaluation flights on vehicles capable of providing flight profiles specified in the solicitation. As this is not a continuation or extension of the 2011 solicitation, previously selected companies also will need to propose to this solicitation to be considered for flight selection.

This solicitation has a base period of performance of two years, with three, one-year options, and total combined contract value of $45 million. The program intends to provide opportunities for additional vendors to be added to the provider pool annually. The solicitation is open until May 8, 2014. The announcement of opportunity can be viewed at: http://go.usa.gov/ZZNW

The solicitation is being made by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which is designed to foster development of a commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry while developing new technologies and improving microgravity research. When available, such reusable vehicles will provide lower-cost, more frequent, and more reliable access to space.




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