Barnstorming the Suborbital Science Frontier

by Nancy Atkinson on February 23, 2012

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Who will really open up the space frontier? Just like the early days of airplanes, when ‘barnstormers’ traveled the country selling rides to the public, commercial space companies see the market as ripe with excited people who want to hitch a ride. In this video, scientists Alan Stern and Dan Durda describe the coming era of suborbital spaceflight and how it will open up great possibilities for researchers, educators, and the public beginning, perhaps, later this year.

“In all the 50 years of human spaceflight, there have been barely 500 people who’ve been launched into space,” says Stern. “We’re talking about launching thousands if not tens of thousands of space tourists every year and then researchers.”

Anyone else besides me want to hitch a ride?

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Olaf2 February 23, 2012 at 11:36 PM

I love what they are doing, but it is a bit cheating.
It is a bit like a balloon ride to the edges of space and then comes back again.
In no way do you get into an orbit.

newSteveZodiac February 24, 2012 at 8:47 AM

Not really , getting into orbit involves becoming Newton’s cannonball which means going fast enough to stop you falling back down without using any fuel, you are still in space, you just need an engine to keep you there, just like an aircraft. Much as I would like the ISS rolling view of Earth I would be very nervous about having to decelerate from 25000 mph using aerobraking to get back home.

Ints Kesans February 24, 2012 at 10:10 AM

I disagree. From space tourism point of view, suborbital flight is made just by high altitude plane. Jump of the Earth and fall back to surface. While orbital flight is fundamentally different. In fact, there is far less difference between orbital flight and flight to the Moon, than suborbital and orbital, which has nothing in common. Except, both are crossing Karman line. I find difficult to name it spaceflight.

Nevertheless, if I had a chance, I would go for any :)

newSteveZodiac February 26, 2012 at 10:43 AM

@suborbital flight is made just by high altitude plane@
Not true. As you point out, once you have crossed the 100km Kármán line you are in SPACE and Virgin Galactic is scheduled to reach 110km, by contrast the Lockheed blackbird high altitude plane only reaches 26km. A flight to any of the Lagrange points and back back would be sub-orbital, the fundamental difference is only speed. To achieve Earth orbit or Lunar insertion you need to reach the escape velocity of those bodies. To get off Earth and into space can be done at walking pace unless you want to go into orbit. The reason space tourism isn’t achieving orbit is the much higher energy cost of getting to those velocities.
We do agree on your last point though :)

DannyNye February 26, 2012 at 1:23 AM

Isn’t the ISS still in the atmosphere. I always thought that spaceflight was outside of the gas envelope. We haven’t done that since the 70s.

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