NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver surprised attendees (including some NASA employees) during her keynote address to the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on Monday.

Garver, who addressed the conference via videolink due to travel restrictions, revealed changes to the NASA Flight Opportunities Program which buys rides for payloads on commercial suborbital spacecraft (as well as sounding rockets, balloons, and parabolic aircraft).

At present, the Flight Opportunities Program (run by the Office of the Chief Technologist) is limited to technology experiments, leaving science payloads out in the cold. Garver acknowledged that NASA “could do more” and promised a new joint solicitation, from the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, that would cover both technology and science payloads.

Garver said NASA would hold a workshop at the Smallsat Conference in August to start educating the scientific community about opportunities to fly science payloads on suborbital flights.

The big surprise came when Garver said NASA does “not want to rule out paying for research that could be done by an individual spaceflight participant — a researcher or payload specialist — on these [suborbital] vehicles in the future.”

Until now, NASA has had a strict policy which prohibited the Flight Opportunities Program from paying for human-tended experiments on suborbital flights. This policy has frustrated many researchers who want to fly payloads on crewed vehicles such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two and XCOR Lynx.

The exact interpretation of Garver’s words is still a mystery. Not ruling something out does not necessarily imply that it will be allowed. “In the future” is a vague timeframe. There’s also the question of whether “paying for research… done by an individual spaceflight participant” includes paying to fly the individual’s ride as well. The NASA Flight Opportunities people were as surprised and confused as anyone, since they were not briefed on the policy change or Garver’s remarks beforehand. There was cautious optimism, however, among conference attendees.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

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