Introduction to Microgravity
Tutorial on Microgravity Research

Tutorial on Microgravity Research

page 2: Competition

United States level

In the US there are a few entities marketing or developing sounding rockets services, including the following.

  • Orbital Sciences Corp. has offered about 10 suborbital launches per year for the last decade. Orbitals largest customer is the US Department of Defense, using the rockets to test defensive missile systems. The Company also markets to university researchers and national laboratories.
  • Coleman Research, Orbital Sciences and Space Vector were selected to support the USAF Space and Missile Systems Centers sounding rocket program. They compete for up to 30 launches through the year 2002 at sites around the world, including White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and Wallops Island, Va.
  • Interorbital Systems (IOS) is another entity involved in R&D of low-cost sounding rockets with flight tests in progress. Founded in 1996, IOS is located at the Mojave Civilian Flight Test Center in Mojave, CA.
  • Microcosm, Inc., of Torrance, CA, is developing small suborbital rockets (SR-S) to be marketed as Scorpius, under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) agreement with Marshall Space Flight Center. The prototype is complete, and both the vehicle and its launcher have been constructed. The first test was successfully launched in January 1999.

However, the major US player providing access to microgravity environment via sounding rockets is NASA. NASAs Sounding Rocket program was established in 1959 to provide support to space and earth sciences research activities sponsored by NASA, governmental agencies and other international sounding rocket organizations and scientists. The program is managed by Wallops, who has comprehensive responsibility for all missions of the program, including launch vehicle, payload design and development, and data retrieval. Missions cost between 100K to 2M. .

In addition to sounding rockets, there has been a noticable amount of development on suborbit manned rockets in an effort to win the X-Prize and develop a "Space Tourism" industry. The X-Prize was a $10 million prize for the first team that could develop a rocket to put a human into space and then do it again within two weeks. A company called Scaled Composites from Mohave, CA, won the prize with their rocket called Space Ship One. The leader of the company is legendary aviation design engineer Burt Rutan.

It has been proven that small private companies can now make great advancements in the space industry with budgets substantially lower that normal. Space Ship One gives credability to that belief.

Scaled Composites has expressed no public interest in doing microgravity research. They seem to be focused on the space tourism market.