TEES Space Engineering Research Center to provide microgravity experiment services

March 9, 2012
| By: Aubrey Bloom

XCOR and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station's (TEES) Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning future microgravity experiments on the XCOR's Lynx rocket plane.

The MOU will enable SERC to fly microgravity experiments on Lynx and also provide third-party services for other microgravity experimenters.

The agreement was announced at the Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto, Calif., in late February. This is the first of what the SERC plans to be several such agreements with the emerging commercial space flight community.

SERC is a space engineering center under TEES and operates an applied research business model in which the center provides technology and services to government and industry clients. SERC is a leading practitioner of near-space micro and micro G experimentation, having designed, developed and flown 55 space experiments involving more than 15,000 parabolas on NASA-sponsored micro G aircraft, the so-called "vomit comet." Continuing that association, SERC participates in the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which will be flying technology payloads on commercial suborbital launch vehicles. SERC has developed methods and practices that leverage this tremendous body of flight experience and uses that to provide consultation services to various groups on microgravity testing.

The opportunity to fly a space experiment in a microgravity environment is growing, especially through new commercial providers like XCOR developing unique launch and return vehicles. These suborbital flight vehicle programs will offer brief periods (seconds to minutes) of microgravity for extremely small cost, compared to traditional space programs. SERC experience has shown, however, that these limited microgravity exposure periods drive unique experiment design requirements, increasing partial or total experiment failure rates for first time experimenters. Space experimenters need access to microgravity experiment payload design/integration expertise to optimize their data return versus cost for these future space flights.

To address that need, SERC is developing a business model to provide a broad range of microgravity experiment services. These will connect the science to the test environment to establish experiment payload performance requirements and experiment desired outcomes. Example services will include developing test plans, developing functional and physical experiment payload designs, ensuring the payload meets the flight service provider flight vehicle environmental requirements (including ground testing), developing experiment payload safety analysis/risk assessment and other documents, and providing SERC flight test engineers to monitor experiment payload operation.

The Lynx is XCOR's entry into the commercial reusable launch vehicle (RLV) market. This two-seat, piloted space transport vehicle will take humans and payloads on a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 feet) and then return safely to a landing at the takeoff runway. Like an aircraft, Lynx is a horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing vehicle, but instead of a jet or piston engine, Lynx uses its own fully reusable rocket propulsion system. This approach is unique compared to some other RLVs in development, such as conventional vertical rocket launches and air-launched winged rocket vehicles "dropped" at altitude from a jet powered mothership. The Lynx aircraft-like capabilities will allow high-tempo operations (up to four flights per day), rapid call-up, fast turnaround between flights, low cost operations and maintenance, and a focus on safety and reliability.

The advent of commercial space providers to complement the traditional government and industry satellite launch business will bring an exciting new component to space operations, and more importantly, the opportunity for many more people to experience space. SERC is evaluating how it can support this emerging market and is initially leveraging its experience in microgravity science and engineering experiments.

Contact SERC at 979-845-8768.


Have a question? Not finding what you're looking for? Let us get you in touch with the right person.

Fill out the form below or give us a call at (979) 458-1648 to reach us.