Who knows? You might end up in space. That was the closing line in a recent Wall.
Street Journal written by Mary Kissel. She interviewed Richard Branson recently to discuss his new book, “Screw Business as Usual”. Now that the 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) is done, we are focusing on the next Student Launch which will be held in June. After an almost monastic existence necessary to prepare for the symposium, I am able to get out into the community during this holiday season to see friends again. People ask if I have a ticket, and I am pretty sure most are joking. Yet, I am pretty sure I have the only ticket purchased on behalf of students. I am finishing the process of putting a down payment on a ticket to fly student experiments. Virgin Galactic has been wonderful about putting a program together to help us accommodate student experiments into the Virgin Galactic business model. They will be flying experiments under the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, along with Up Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.
Their recently announced “Payload Users Guide” is now online at the Virgin Galactic website, it is under the topic “Conducting Research”. Last year at the Runway Dedication event, Sir Richard acknowledged their support for our education partnership. Yet, we have been working for many years to get ready for the day we fly with Virgin. It takes a long time to get students and teachers prepared to fly worthwhile experiments into space.
Right now, we are using the UP Aerospace rocket. That is a very different platform than SpaceShipTwo(SSII). Sort of like the difference between a frying pan and a pressure cooker. We will be ready when we are able to use the Virgin system.
Right now, we use the UP Aerospace rocket to successfully get to space from Spaceport America. We have been buying rockets from Up Aerospace for three years now, and I have written about the Student Launch Program before.
Our partnership with NASA for the Student Launch Program has been a blessing indeed. First and foremost, I will not be buying our next rocket for students, NASA will buy this rocket, as we are now part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program. The rocket will contain more than New Mexico student experiments. There is a plus right there. Our students will interact with students from other schools and universities. I have seen student interaction at both NASA Wallops Flight facility and at Ellington Field in Texas. NASA does a great job of making students the focus of the entire experience. Working at New Mexico State and having the benefit of faculty and NASA partners who know their way around the space industry is helping us get ready for our next launch.
We are going to focus most of our efforts this year on flying experiments to determine the first steps in answering the question, “Can we manufacture crude oil in space from algae?” We will fly multiple student designed experiments to examine questions like; will the algae survive the 16Gs of launch? The rocket spins six times a second, will they survive this dynamic of flight, will it get too hot for them in the desert heat while they wait to launch? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions for a lot of reasons. We are going to put algae in different solutions, in different containers, in different locations in the rocket. As we work with the schools to help them solve for known problems that might be preventable, we have talked with our NASA colleagues, as well as consultations with Sapphire energy and colleagues here at NMSU.
During a recent conversation with Dr. Kamlesh Lulla, NASA’s Director of the University Research and Partnership Office, I discovered he has just written a book on the research conducted during the one hundred and thirty five launches of the Shuttle Program. He co-authored the book with Wayne Hale, former Shuttle Program Manager, and session chair at the 2011 ISPCS. What a wonderful surprise! I immediately ordered a few of these books, one of course as a resource for our students, and then a copy for our Vice President of Research here at NMSU who introduced me to Dr. Lulla three years ago. I realize what a privilege it is to do this work here in our community. If Ms. Kissel lived in Las Cruces, she’d know, sixty seven student experiments have gone to space, and more will be going every year. What a life.