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NASA to Fund Researchers to Fly on Suborbital Vehicles, Maybe Astronauts

3 Mar 2020, 22:39 UTC
NASA to Fund Researchers to Fly on Suborbital Vehicles, Maybe Astronauts
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by Douglas MessierManaging Editor

After spending a few years in hibernation, the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) is being held in Colorado this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I’ve been following all the action on Twitter.

In a keynote address on Monday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine floated the idea of letting the space agency’s astronauts fly aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicles. He also discussed certifying the systems to comply with a subset of NASA’s human ratings requirements.

The announcement came as NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program released a solicitation under which the space agency would fund researchers to fly aboard the two spacecraft with their technology demonstration payloads. Thus far, the program has bought space on flights for scientific experiments and technology demonstrations only.

Chief Astronaut Trainer Beth Moses floats in the cabin as David Mackay and Michael “Sooch” Masucci pilot VSS. Unity. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Flying people on the vehicles raises concerns because there are no government safety standards in place to protect passengers or crew members. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is prohibited from issuing any regulations until there is a close call or another accident.

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