Besides amateur camera-balloons, it's pretty difficult to get a viable science experiment into space. You need to buy a launch vehicle, license it, find a place to launch from, protect your payload, and get permission to actually launch, for starters. In the past, you might have partnered with NASA to do this, but it's never been easy to win federal support for a rocket or space station excursion, and it's about to get even harder after the space shuttles retire this summer.
But the transition away from the shuttle is promising for experimenters, as a new generation of privately built and operated spacecraft is poised to take over. The commercial space tourism industry will transform the way scientists study microgravity, offering lower prices and greater convenience than anything the government can provide. Scientists will no longer need to apply to NASA to do their experiments. Even better, they won't have to join the astronaut corps to get to space in person, a paradigm shift that could make cutting-edge research much more widely accessible.
Scientists half-jokingly call it the "ignorosphere" -- a region about 50-100 kilometers above the Earth that's too high for airplanes, but too low for satellites. "It earned its name because even though the area is valuable to researchers, there has been no easy way to get to it," said Alan Stern, planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. But, Stern says, suborbital flights, like those made by Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, go right to the heart of this region, which includes the layer of the Earth's atmosphere that lies above the stratosphere and below the thermosphere.
Introducing the Lynx, a two-seat rocket built for space tourism
By Michael BelfiorePosted 03.26.2008 at 12:30 pm 5 Comments
Today in Los Angeles, a private space company unveiled the latest entrant in the race to send paying passengers into suborbital space.
The Lynx, in development by XCOR Aerospace, is envisioned as a two-seat vehicle that will allow a paying passenger to ride up front with the pilot to experience weightlessness and see the Earth from space.