Alan Stern has a good article in the latest Space News: Next-Generation Suborbital Spaceflight: A Research Bonanza at 100 Kilometers. For most people reading our blog you are probably familiar with the unique capabilities that the suborbital spaceflight industry can offer but Alan’s list of features is about as succinct as you can get:
- Frequent access to space at low cost with hundreds to thousands of experiment opportunities annually at typical launch costs of $200,000 per seat or $1,000 per pound of equipment — that’s 10 times to 100 times the launch rate of current suborbital rockets, at launch costs of one or two dimes on the dollar compared to today’s costs.
- Far better microgravity than aircraft provide, with 10 times the continuous microgravity time and a 100-times lower disturbance-level microgravity environment.
- Direct access to the crucial yet largely unexplored “ignorosphere” of our atmosphere — the region too high for balloons and aircraft, but too low for satellites between 50 kilometers and 140 kilometers.
- Much gentler rides for payloads than current suborbital rockets; after all, if tourist grandmothers and grandfathers will be flying in these vehicles, then many kinds of standard, off-the-shelf laboratory equipment can as well.
- Simple and fast safety-integration processes, more akin to zero-gravity aircraft than the space shuttle or the international space station (ISS).
- The opportunity to fly larger payloads than can be flown inside the shuttle or ISS, for example, allowing sophisticated medical imagers to study test subjects in microgravity for the first time.
- Flexible operations that will include worldwide launch basing, the ability to launch at specific times coincident with phenomenology, in synch with classes, in synch with circadian rhythms, and rapid (minutes scale) access to samples, test subjects, etc. post-flight — something no human flight systems offer today.
- The opportunity to fly researchers with their payloads, opening space microgravity, life sciences and remote sensing experimentation up to scientists and educators in the same way that researchers have previously exploited on-the-spot presence in the deep ocean, polar environments and high-performance aircraft.
We do not fly people which means some of these don’t apply but it also means we have a unique set of capabilities. With no people on board we have a more benign microgravity requirement. It also means we can reach higher altitudes sooner. If you are interested in flying with us send me an email and let us know what your needs are.