Space

NASA announces the First Suborbital Research Payload with a Human Being on-board

The first human-tended commercial suborbital research payload has been unveiled. So is the person who will board the satellite from Virgin Galactic when that time comes. NASA settled for Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) experiment. It will participate in its Flight Opportunities program that is all about testing suborbital aircraft and vehicles’ technologies. 

In this particular experiment, the focus will be on how a specific camera works. According to its design, it should operate at low light levels. This experiment will be about finding out how the camera can come in handy in astronomical imaging. At the same time, it will focus on using a suite of biomedical sensors separately.

So far, NASA has already selected up to other payloads for its Flight Opportunities programs. The latest one included 30 payloads. However, this one is unique because it will consist of a human being for the first time in history. It will be none other than Alan Stern, a planetary scientist who currently serves in SwRI as the associate vice president. He will be in a suborbital flight on the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo. He will wear the biomedical sensors and will also be operating the camera.

When it comes to flying researchers and commercial suborbital research at large, Stern’s advocacy is paying off. Ever since 2-10, he has been organizing conferences on the same. He conducted the last one this year in March. There is also a sign of interest on SwRI’s side, which booked several reservations on the SpaceShipTwo. It had also made partial payments for several seats for the Lynx suborbital vehicle by XCOR Aerospace, non-defunct.

As far as Stern is concerned, this will be a milestone and a change of the norm. For the first time, he will be doing the research personally instead of sending machines like he has been doing for a long time. He is also grateful for being selected and hopes that it is just but the beginning of many similar research opportunities.

Ever since NASA declared its support for researchers flying on commercial suborbital vehicles, this is the first opportunity. Although the flights’ dates are still not yet determined, Virgin Galactic, in collaboration with the Italian Air Force, is still pushing through with the SpaceShipTwo flight. Also, on board will be three Italian researchers.

The preparations are going as expected for not only the SpaceShipTwo flight but also the WhiteKnightTwo flights. However, given the progress at the moment, it is still too early to schedule the flights. Regardless, space researchers have made a significant milestone with the announcement by NASA, no doubt.

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