Some independent thoughts about suborbital markets on the Fourth of July.


Tuesday night we watched the Kaboomtown fireworks show at Addison Airport. The ground-launch fireworks were impressive (it’s rated as one of the top five pyrotechnic displays in the United States, according the Travel Channel), but we noticed the greatest reaction at the start of the show, when fireworks were launched from a B-24 flying above the field.

At least, we believe it was the B-24. It was too dark to clearly discern the outlines of the aircraft, and there were no loudspeakers in our area to provide narration.

This led us to think about the possibility that someday, in the not too distant future, we might see fireworks launched from a suborbital spacecraft, and to muse on the form such a display might take.

The most practical display might not be actual fireworks at all. After all, fireworks explosions 50 miles up would be quite small as viewed from the ground, and there would be “boom” at all. Not very much fun. But in the past, scientists have used sounding rockets to create artificial auroras by releasing trimethyl aluminum into the upper atmosphere or exciting the upper atmosphere with electron beams. An artificial aurora might be an interesting complement to a ground-based fireworks show. Of course, the suborbital spacecraft could also launch fireworks on the way up or on the way down, while still close enough to the ground for an effective display.

Fireworks might seem like a frivolous use of suborbital spaceflight, and certainly no one would go to the expensive of developing a spacecraft for this purpose. But once suborbital spacecraft exist, operators will no doubt find all sorts of niche applications and customers like this.

Of course, this type of entertainment display requires a suborbital spacecraft that’s capable of launching and landing at night. The suborbital spacecraft now under development are designed for operation under daytime VFR conditions. There’s no point in adding the complexities of night-time and all-weather operation at this time. Once suborbital spacecraft are flying on a regular basis, though, it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to do the extra development of the avionics and procedures required for night operations. (There will be scientific payloads that want to fly at night as well.) Perhaps the NASA Flight Opportunities program, which has been funding enhancements to suborbital vehicles for scientific missions, will decide to take an interest at some point.

Written by Astro1 on July 4th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation

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