(Belated) NSRC Day 3 highlights: suborbital markets and training

The final day of the the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Orlando wound down with a grab bag of sessions on research, markets, and other issues. One interesting presentation was by Paul Guthrie of the Tauri Group, who discussed a study they had done in cooperation with Space Florida to identify markets for suborbital vehicles. That work has identified seven potential markets: commercial human spaceflight, aerospace technology test and demonstration, basic and applied science, education, remote sensing, media and public relations, and point-to-point travel. This study is not intended to determine the sizes of those markets (that being left to a future study) or their timing, as some, like point-to-point travel, would presumably emerge much later than tourism and research.

The conference’s concluding panel examined training and roles for payload specialists who might fly with their experiments on suborbital flights. This panel covered again some of the ground of a session the previous day on crew training, with some of the same participants. Although some, like Astronaut4Hire’s Erik Seedhouse, have proposed rather rigorous training regimens for suborbital crews, others, like Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, believe that only a modest amount of training will be needed for suborbital payload specialists: on the order of one to three weeks, spread out over a larger period of time. “If we turn this into training where it looks like you’re going on an International Space Station mission, we’re really going to be in trouble. We’re defeating the purpose of low-cost spaceflight,” Stern said.

That discussion helped identify one of the themes of the 2011 NSRC. While the first NSRC last year in Colorado was primarily designed to helped put this market—research and education—on the map, the second one transitioned from the “why” of suborbital research to the “how”: how to fly payloads on suborbital vehicles, how to train payload specialists for the flights, and related topics. The next NSRC is scheduled for the February 2012 in the San Francisco Bay Area, hosted by NASA Ames. By then, perhaps, we’ll start hearing about results from payloads that have actually flown on suborbital vehicles.

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