|› View Larger Image||› View Larger Image||› View Larger Image|
SL-7 Launch: This collage shows the NASA-funded UP Aerospace SpaceLoft 7 reusable sounding rocket shooting skyward from its launch tower at Spaceport America in New Mexico on June 21. SpaceLoft 7 carried seven space-technology experiments into an almost weightless space-relevant environment and set a new altitude record for suborbital sounding rockets of 73.9 miles. (Contributed / Heriberto Ibarra)
It was "up, up and away" June 21 when UP Aerospace Inc.'s SpaceLoft 7 suborbital rocket reached a record altitude for sounding rockets of 73.9 miles – more than 390,000 feet – after a NASA-funded launch from Spaceport America near Las Cruces, N.M.
NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, which is managed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, funded the flight to carry five space-technology experiments and two sets of student experiments aboard the suborbital sounding rocket.
"We are very happy with the successful launch of SpaceLoft 7 and look forward to future flights with UP Aerospace," said Ron Young, Flight Opportunities Program manager at NASA Dryden.
The Flight Opportunities Program is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages the technology maturation and tracking for the program.
The sub-orbital flight lasted nearly 15 minutes and provided a weightless environment for testing the experiments for 3 ½ minutes. After a drag chute slowed the rocket's descent and a parachute opened, the nose cone and payload bay landed as anticipated at a site about 320 miles downrange on the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The components were recovered and flown back to the launch site by an army helicopter within an hour of landing. At the launch site the payloads were removed from the nose cone and payload bay and returned to the researchers.
"We successfully completed the flight and retrieved the section of the rocket carrying all the payloads," said Dougal Maclise, NASA's Flight Opportunities technology manager. "The payloads were removed from the rocket. We're checking the data we collected to see how the flight went, and how the technologies functioned while they were in microgravity. We'll report back in about four months."
The main objective of the Flight Opportunities Program is to aid the maturation of technology for future space and high-altitude missions that benefit NASA. Flying on suborbital launch vehicles in zero gravity, experimental technologies are briefly exposed to the space environment where these technologies are expected to operate. Researchers can then check their experiments to ensure they operated as expected.
A second objective of the program is to foster the emerging commercial suborbital launch industry.
Noting that it was the first time he had worked with UP Aerospace, NASA Campaign Manager Paul De Leon said he arrived early during launch preparations "to get a good feeling of all the processes of assembling their rocket and integrating our payloads into the rocket."
Two days before launch, he said, the researchers did a final check of their technology experiments and were allowed to physically mate their payloads into the rocket before the entire rocket was assembled.
Payloads included the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), the Italian DTM Technologies' Diapason, the Space Technology Game-Changing Development payload vibration isolation system as well as two high school science experiments funded by a New Mexico Space Grant.
ADS-B is a commercial off-the-shelf tracking device for use in air traffic control and related applications that the FAA is developing as part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Current plans will require all aircraft and other flight vehicles operating within U.S. airspace to be equipped with ADS-B by 2020.
The Diapason is an instrument that studies nano-particle migration and capture, achieved by very small thermal gradients. The particles range from 1 micron down to 1/1000 of a micron. This range allows the monitoring of combustion-generated pollution, the analysis of hostile environments, and the identification of atmospheric contaminants.
UP Aerospace SpaceLoft suborbital rockets are about 20 feet long and can carry up to 110 pounds of payload. SpaceLoft 7 was the firm's 11th launch from Spaceport America.
Based in Denver, Colo., UP Aerospace Inc. is one of seven companies NASA has contracted to fly experiments at the boundaries of space to verify that technologies work as expected in this environment. The other six firms are Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.
NASA manages the Flight Opportunities manifest, matching payloads with flights, and pays for payload integration and flight costs for the selected payloads. It is intended that the other suborbital flight vendors contracted by NASA will provide flights after they have successfully flown their qualifying vehicles.
Jay Levine / Leslie Williams, Public Affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center