Suborbital space tourism is now providing a commercially viable solution for industries and organisations looking to do experiments in microgravity.
Science experiments are done in microgravity environments by research and development organisations, both public and private, and by large corporations across a range of industries. Possible experiments include those involving crystal growth, cell function and the development of new materials.
Traditionally, those looking to launch experiments would do so from the ISS or on parabolic flights. Some have argued that there are drawbacks associated with these routes, including high costs, regulatory restrictions associated with dealing with traditional providers, and a low repeatability cycle. Suborbital spaceflights are now being utilised as an alternative, and various commercial platform providers are selling flights for scientific payloads as well as to space tourists.
Companies like XCOR Aerospace, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, who have developed vehicles that are all designed to achieve a duration of microgravity, are offering a more affordable and flexible solution, and it has been reported that NASA has purchased several Virgin Galactic charter flights for its future experiments.
The advantages of commercial suborbital platforms were discussed at the International Institute of Space Commerce/International Space University (ISU) Workshop on commercial solutions for microgravity experiments at the Royal Astronomical Society in London on 4 Dec 13, where representatives from XCOR discussed opportunities on its vehicle Lynx, and Zero2Infinity outlined the advantages of its high altitude microbloon.
Many commented that this is an area of anticipated growth, and one which may prove to be more lucrative for space tourism companies than the tourists themselves.