Tutorial on Microgravity Research
Space Industry Overview
Traditionally, the space industry has been dominated by military and civil (government non-military) projects. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, combined with the growing needs for telecommunications services worldwide, the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, has helped the space industry to be less reliant on governmental and defense-related projects and has become predominantly commercial driven.
The space industry generates estimated worldwide revenue of $75 billion dollars in 1999 (Orbital 1998 Annual Report) with substantial growth opportunity in the commercial area, especially for space-based emerging applications. Those include remote sensing, geographic information systems, global positioning system, solar power activities, medical applications, and microgravity.
As demand for products and services which are based on satellite capacity to expand increases, so will demand for space launch services. This situation creates a huge opportunity for aerospace companies offering access to the microgravity environment. Compensating the force of gravity by creating a microgravity environment can help better observe and control physical, chemical and biological processes and phenomena that are normally overshadowed or dominated by the effects of gravity. Microgravity allows for scientific and technological investigations in Physical and Life Sciences, and provides the opportunity to test instrumentation prior to space experiments in order to improve their quality and success rate. For scientists, researchers and industrialists, suborbital microgravity missions are complementary and preparatory to space missions.
Important factors for services providing microgravity to researchers are as follows.
- Short turn-around time between the experiment proposal and its performance.
- Low cost involved.
- Flexibility of the experimental approach as laboratory-type instrumentation is most commonly used, and
- Possibility of modifying the experiment set-up between flights rapidly.
The following information helps better understand the importance of suborbital flights and microgravity in the context of space commercialization and its emerging applications (http://www.estec.esa.int/spaceflight/parabolic) and (NASA, Microgravity Research Division, Microgravity Science Research Discipline Brochure).