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NASA Picks 13 Payloads for Suborbital Flights

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has booked rides to the edge of space for 13 experimental payloads in 2013 and 2014, the agency said Jan. 22.

The Flight Opportunities program is a matchmaking service that connects suborbital flight operators with payload owners. NASA awards indefinite-quantity, indefinite-delivery contracts that qualify the operators — vehicles include high-altitude balloons, sounding rockets and parabolic aircraft — then orders flights based on demand from payload owners. These payloads, typically science experiments or technology demonstrations, must clear a NASA selection process to get a ride.

NASA officials including Mason Peck, chief technologist, have pushed the Flight Opportunities program as a way to cheaply retire risks associated with new and unproven space systems.

Nine of the recently selected 13 payloads will be getting rides on an aircraft operated by Zero G Corp., Arlington, Va. The aircraft flies a series of parabolas that provide brief periods of microgravity.

The four payloads not flying on parabolic aircraft, along with their principal investigators and mode of flight, are:

  • Autolanding for Robotic Precursor Missions” led by Kevin Peterson of Astrobotic Technology Inc. of Pittsburgh. Astrobotic’s automated landing system will be integrated with a vertical takeoff, vertical landing vehicle. NASA did not identify the vehicle operator in its press release, but of the current Flight Opportunities contractors only Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif., operates vertical takeoff, vertical landing rockets for the program. 
  • “Deployable Rigid Adjustable Guided Final Landing Approach Pinions” led by Masten’s Jonathan Powers. The payload will fly on a high-altitude balloon provided by Near Space Corp., Tillamook, Ore.
  • “Guided Parafoil High Altitude Research,” Allen Lowry of Airborne Systems North America of CA Inc. in Santa Ana, Calif. This payload will also fly on a Near Space balloon.
  • “Flight Testing of a UAT ADS-B Transmitter Prototype for Commercial Space Transportation Using Reusable Launch Vehicles,” Richard Stansbury of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. The prototype transmitter — ADS-B transmitters typically are used for air traffic management — will be tested on both a balloon and a suborbital rocket.

The nine payloads slated for parabolic aircraft flights, along with their principal investigators, are:

  • “Structural Dynamics Test of STACER Antenna Deployment in Microgravity,” Kerri Cahoy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
  • “UAH ChargerSat-2 Parabolic Flight Testing,” Francis Wessling of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
  • “High Eccentric Resistive Overload Device Demonstration during Parabolic Flight,” Aaron Weaver of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
  • “Assessing Otolith-Organ Function with Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials in Parabolic Flight,” Mark Shelhamer of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
  • “On the Performance of a Nanocatalyst-based Direct Ammonia Alkaline Fuel Cell under Microgravity Conditions for Water Reclamation and Energy Applications,” Carlos Cabrera of the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
  • “Dynamic and Static Behavior of a Flexible Fuel Hose in Zero-G,” Allyson Buker of Jackson and Tull in Washington.
  • “In-Flight Lab Analysis Technology Demonstration in Reduced Gravity,” Emily Nelson of the Glenn Research Center.
  • “Caging System for Drag-free Satellites,” Robert Byer of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
  • “Reduced Gravity Flight Demonstration of the Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System,” Raymond Sedwick of the University of Maryland in College Park.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., manages the Flight Opportunities program. The Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages payload activities for the Flight Opportunities program.

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