This week saw some good news for (and from) NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which funds flights for payloads on various commercial platforms including microgravity aircraft and suborbital spacecraft.

First, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)) successfully added an amendment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Reauthorization Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 1317) to increase support for the Flight Opportunities Program. The bill has passed the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

The exact text of the amendment is not yet available on the Thomas website, which is still showing a version of the bill from July 17. A press release from Heinrich’s office says the amendment will “expand the development and testing of new space technologies within NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.”

The second bit of good news came in an email from the Flight Opportunities Program itself. The email announced a new research opportunity from NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), which includes a provision for use of suborbital spacecraft through the Flight Opportunities Program.

The solicitation, entitled Human Exploration Research Opportunities (HERO), focuses on biomedical research related to astronaut health.

The relevant provision appears on page 27 of the announcement:

Suborbital Capabilities

PLEASE NOTE: NASA is reviewing its policy on human-tended payloads and will provide an update in the future.
Suborbital spaceflight opportunities are expected to be available during the lifetime of selected proposals from this solicitation which may provide longer — but still brief — exposure to weightlessness and other spaceflight conditions than parabolic aircraft flights. Suborbital flight opportunities are described at https://flightopportunities.nasa.govReusable suborbital research enables a new generation of science by providing frequent access to a new region of space heretofore unexplored with user-friendly g-loads in a pressurized, temperature-controlled environment and payload accommodation from 1 to 100kg, soda-can sized to human sized. Short-duration flights will permit researchers to access payloads both pre- and post-flight. A typical suborbital flight will accelerate briefly using rocket propulsion to achieve high vertical velocity. When above the sensible atmosphere, will follow a typical ballistic arc providing reduced gravity for approximately four minutes, then will decelerate on re-entry into the atmosphere. Landing on Earth may use some or all of winged flight, parachutes or rocket propulsion. Proposals employing suborbital flights must make a strong case that the use of that modality is necessary to meet HRP’s objectives of reducing the human risks of space exploration.
This provision confirms that NASA is working on changes to its policy on human-tended payloads, as announced by Deputy Administration Lori Garver in June. The wheels are turning although, perhaps, somewhat slower than some had hoped.
Written by Astro1 on August 1st, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management

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