Examination of the state of suborbital space science

The State of Suborbital Space Sciences

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo during a test flight. Suborbital science experiments fly aboard this vehicle, as well as Blue Origin New Shepard, and other suborbital flights, providing scientists, students, and others with valuable access to microgravity. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Do you think that there is nothing to be learned through suborbital flight and that space science is only done in orbit? Think again.

Recently, a group of school students in Canada asked the question: Do Epi-Pens work in space? These are injections loaded with epinephrine that are used to help people with allergies survive a severe attack.

To get an answer, the class at St Brother André Primary School worked with NASA, the University of Ottawa and the non-profit Cubes in Space program to launch some Epi-Pens on suborbital flights on a rocket and high-altitude balloon. Results? Post-flight analysis showed that the pens lost their effectiveness in space. It was a surprise to NASA as well as to the students.

The experiment was one of many suborbital projects that have been lifted aloft over the years. These experiments are created and implemented by space agencies, corporations, educational institutions, and other groups.

Their work shows that subtropical science is not only alive and well, but is delivering important results across a range of sciences. And in the wake of the recent unidentified balloon drops after the Chinese floated one over North America, it’s important to know that balloons, as well as rockets and other launch vehicles, play a huge role in suborbital research for scientific purposes.

About suborbital space flight

Suborbital spaceflight is exactly what it says, flights that go up into suborbital space, but don’t go into Earth orbit. It can hit every task Outer Space (that is, they reached or slightly exceeded the von Karmann line at 100 km above sea level). While there, the car spends a few minutes at its peak before returning. Those short moments in spaceflight provide microgravity environments where researchers can deploy experiments in close spaceflight conditions.

Early in the history of spaceflight, these flights tested spacecraft and conducted sounding studies of the upper atmosphere and astrophysical targets. Today, suborbital missions take place aboard rocket ships and jet aircraft flying parabolic flights, as well as sounding rockets and balloons of all sizes. We may not always hear about these assignments unless a celebrity is on board, but they are an important part of it Space science. They often take humans and experiments to the edge of space and back to sample valuable microgravity environments.

Suborbital science experiments can test materials most likely to be found on asteroids and other small bodies, as in the Box of Rocks experiment. Credit: SWRI

Suborbital reach exploration

People, companies, and agencies from around the world involved in subtropical science recently convened at the 8th Next Generation Subtropical Researchers Conference in Broomfield, Colorado. The meeting was an opportunity to explore scientific findings from recent missions as well as an opportunity to learn about the latest vehicles and software.

According to the chair of the meeting, Dr. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Subtropical space flights It is growing as a way to provide access to space, more frequent flight opportunities, and the ability to fly scientists and educators on missions. And of course, there are opportunities for public participation. “There are applications for research, education, launch service providers and users,” he said in his opening remarks at the meetings. “The vehicles we use have enormous uses beyond space tourism.”

Who uses suborbital space?

Launch systems like Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTo take people like William Shatner and Richard Branson into space, but are also regularly used by researchers and educators in their work. Some fly with their experiences on so-called “human-sponsored” missions. Others send their automated tools and retrieve data after the flight. In a relatively new twist, students from elementary school to college teams are taking their experiments to space aboard a variety of suborbital vehicles.

The State of Suborbital Space Sciences

Spacecraft and model suborbital locations. Credit: NASA/FO Program

Companies such as Raven Aerostar conduct many experiments and other projects aboard blimps and stratospheric balloons. They serve NASA, as well as schools, and other government agencies.

School groups deploy their little balloons with the help of non-profit educator groups like Edge of Space Sciences (EOSS). These enhance science education by providing hands-on experiences to children. In addition, microgravity flights aboard so-called “vomit comets” bring another dimension to suborbital science. For example, experimenters use Zero-G flights to test projects in near weightless conditions at the top of multiple parabolic flights.

Some examples of subtropical sciences

So, what kind of experiments are being conducted in the subtropical world? The Next Generation Subtropical Science conference featured dozens of talks covering a wide range of test subject areas. For example, some very exciting experiments involve surgery in space. You can’t necessarily test such procedures on the International Space Station, for example, because containing bodily fluids is a challenge. A team of physicians at Purdue University, the University of Louisville (KY) and Orbital Medicine Inc. in Virginia used parabolic flights to evaluate instruments to assist with fluid containment during weightless surgery.

Obviously, scientists study Earth’s atmosphere using balloon flights to the upper stratosphere loaded with instruments. Platforms that penetrate the stratosphere can carry remote sensing instruments to study the physics of thunderstorms, for example. Other experiments can perform spectral analysis of the atmosphere, either from balloons or via commercial suborbital rockets.

What about extraterrestrial conditions? One set of experiments was performed on Blue Origin’s suborbital flights at New Shepard to simulate conditions on the moon and asteroids. The idea was to test granular materials and simulate soils in suborbital space. This showed scientists how they behave in their native, low-gravity environments. Other experiments, such as the Southwest Research Institute’s (BORE) Box Rock experiment, have also been tested on suborbital flights.

The State of Suborbital Space Sciences

Examples of NASA and commercial high-altitude balloons commonly used on suborbital space missions. Credit: NASA BPO and FO Program

A bright future for subtropical science

Suborbital research shows that the space no more than a hundred kilometers above our heads appears to be much more than a place to fly through to reach low Earth orbit, the Moon, and beyond. It provides a training ground for future astronauts, scientists, and their payloads by way of routine flights.

By most accounts, influences across the commercial space as well as science education continue to grow. Continued suborbital research, as many of the participants at the Next Generation conference shared, will democratize access to space for both individuals and science teams for the foreseeable future.

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the quote: State of Suborbital Space Science Examination (2023, March 16) Retrieved March 16, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-state-suborbital-space-science.html

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