09 March 2011

NSRC 2011

The 2011 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) was held in Florida last week. Like its predecessor that gave birth to Astronauts4Hire (A4H), this year's NSRC was very educational and inspiring. It was attended by more than 350 people, which was a significant increase from 2010. In the 10 months it has existed as an organization, A4H has come a long way, and the NSRC venue once again proved important for A4H to gain exposure and help further the suborbital research industry.

As a sponsor and exhibitor, A4H made three announcements at this year's NSRC, including the creation of our Senior Technical Advisory Council, the completion of our first flight contract as the world’s only commercial microgravity testing service, and the selection of nine new Flight Members. These all signify major milestones for A4H as it matures into a premier professional development organization for astronaut candidates. A steady stream of interested visitors stopped by the A4H booth to learn about us throughout the conference. Below is an excellent interview SpaceKate made with A4H Public Relations Officer Ben Corbin:


In the Crew Training for Suborbital Spaceflight session, A4H Training Officer Dr. Erik Seedhouse presented the proposed A4H qualification standard members must meet to be certified by A4H as research and mission specialist astronauts. This spurred a healthy debate among attendees on what the role of standards should be in the industry. A4H Flight Member Dr. Mindy Howard presented on the human factors cabin design requirement tradeoffs for tourists versus researchers.


The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) made two notable announcements that it has made full deposits for six researchers to fly on XCOR's Lynx and two to fly on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in order to carry out scientific experiments developed by its in-house technical staff. These are the first commercial contracts to fly scientists into space to conduct research experiments, and they represent big breakthroughs for the development of the emerging research and education market in suborbital spaceflight. The New York Times published a good article about the SwRI announcements.

Another focus of NSRC was NASA, which has recognized the importance of suborbital vehicles as research platforms through its new Flight Opportunities Program. The NASA program will open significant additional opportunities for researchers to fund experiments onboard suborbital vehicles. Presentations at the conference highlighted several potential areas of research ranging from planetary science and medicine to technology development and testing. The CSA and ESA have counterpart programs too. Of particular interest were presentations dealing with payload integration and the roles and responsibilities of payload specialists. For example, XCOR announced its new global network of Research and Educational Mission Payload Integrators for its Lynx suborbital vehicle.

While NSRC 2010 dealt with the “why” of suborbital research, this year’s NSRC focused more on the “how”. By the time of next year's NSRC, the "what" can be explored with results from initial research flights. A4H looks forward to this exciting year as the industry matures.

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