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Spaceflight Industry

Photo @NASA, 2016.

National space agencies have a legacy in human spaceflight that stretches from suborbital to lunar mission profiles. However, as humanity continues to develop its capacity to operate successful missions in these profiles, commercial spaceflight has the potential to make industrial, scientific, and exploratory access to space sustainable. Because of this, the emergence of human spaceflight for commercial purposes offers significant opportunities for human research and exploration. After years of development, commercial human space transportation systems are approaching readiness for cost-effective and frequent flights of passengers and payloads.

Journal: Spaceflight Industry showcases ASP’s members and their updates on the latest developments in a dynamic market for commercial human spaceflight.

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  • 13 Feb 2023 12:00 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) has been at the forefront of human microgravity research since 2005. The program investigates risks to crew health and performance and develops countermeasures to these risks in support of NASA’s exploration goals. The Human Research Roadmap formalizes the research framework according to anticipated risks to health and performance. Academic and institutional HRP investigators meet annually at the Investigator's Workshop Series (IWS) to discuss the state-of-the-research and look to next steps.

    2022 saw incredible progress made by NASA’s commercial partners, and at this year’s IWS, HRP showcased the plans of four of these partners for development of commercial LEO destinations (CLDs). Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, Nanoracks, and SpaceX have plans dedicated to operations in building, operating, or serving CLDs, and therefore play a central role in US plans for transitioning LEO operations to these commercial operators. Demand segments include tourism, science, engineering, manufacturing, entertainment, and national lab space, each of which contribute to allowing NASA to focus its work on exploration.

    Rendering of plans for Axiom Station, a commercial station operated by Axiom Space. Photo Axiom Space 2023.

    To enable this transition, HRP must anticipate its needs for human research, and CLDs must be planned to support these needs. This relationship also requires the demonstration of the efficacy of private astronaut operations, and private astronaut missions (PAMs) have already begun to the ISS and orbit.

    Axiom, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman have illustrated how their plans for commercial space operations align with the needs for ongoing human research, and how those plans support ongoing work by commercial crews. For example, Orbital Reef is being developed as a multi-use destination that would include facilities for research, habitation, and satellite operations. Orbital Reef will be crewed by staff or visiting commercial and governmental crew that will provide the necessary expertise for these functions. Major benefits of CLDs include continuous access to microgravity for researchers to support iterative science in shirt-sleeve environments, as well as access to state-of-the-art facilities.

    Rendering of planned layout for Orbital Reef, a commercial station developed jointly by Blue Origin and Sierra Space. Photo Orbital Reef 2023.

    Therefore, we see that private crew have a critical role to play in the LEO economy, and in enabling milestones in human spaceflight. To support the professional expertise required for these roles, ASP connects qualified professionals with opportunities in public and private sectors. As a professional association, ASP intends to support the development of CLDs and their successors through the administration of professional advancement.

    HRP’s goals in human research highlight NASA’s needs to achieve its mission, and showcase the capabilities that CLDs will implement in the next generation of orbital stations. Internal, commercial, and governmental crew will provide the expertise needed for the next steps in the spaceflight industry.

    ASP's mission is to connect qualified professionals with opportunities in public and private sectors of human spaceflight. As a professional association, ASP provides education and community opportunities, and continues to build a body of professional credentials to support the advancement of a highly qualified membership.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.

  • 7 Apr 2022 12:00 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    It’s been a busy year in spaceflight and at ASP, with an industry-wide focus on the development of flight platforms, flight operations, and refinement of the regulatory environment. Importantly, this development has occurred across mission types, with ongoing successes in ISS commercial crew transportation and in planning for a return to the moon. Emphasis from both public and private groups showcases the role of partnership, rapid development, and incremental engineering to advance across mission profiles.

    Since our last article, NASA and its private partners have achieved several major milestones. Virgin Galactic successfully completed its first crewed mission to suborbital space, illustrating the role of mission specialists in passenger experience, cabin operations, and science. SpaceX has successfully operated flights for Inspiration4, continues its development of the Human Landing System for Artemis, and is working hard on the first generation of Starship and its ground systems. Space Adventures has worked with Roscosmos to deliver private citizens to the ISS. And NASA has completed preparations for the Artemis 1 mission, with SLS having achieved a successful Green Run last year as well as a successful roll out to Pad 39B in March. Artemis 1 is slated to launch in June.

    A celebration of these milestones is not complete without a recognition of the years of effort that have gone into making them possible, and critically, to the engineering approach that gradually retires the risks of human spaceflight. Nowhere is this more true than in the development history of Blue Origin’s New Shepherd, which after 7 years of continuous development, flew its first commercial suborbital crew on NS-15 on July 20th, 2021. The flight marked the 15th successful cycle of the platform, building upon its history of 100% success and flying both the oldest and youngest spaceflight passengers above the Kármán line.

    Blue Origin NS-15 and crew upon return from suborbital space. New Shepherd showcased the capacity of a suborbital platform for sustainable passenger flights. Blue Origin, July 2021.

    While developments by NASA and industry constitute key enabling technologies for safe, sustainable, and evolvable flight operations, they represent more than engineering successes. NS-20 and its counterparts comprise the basis of a spaceflight marketplace, one in which goods and services are provided directly to those who are paying for them. Leveraging a platform like New Shepherd requires familiarity with the benefits of microgravity and its value. Market segments that correspond with this value include

    • Research and development: Scientific lines of inquiry that require data from the microgravity environment

    • Technology demonstration: Advancement of engineering platforms designed for performance in microgravity

    • Crew training: Crew exposure to microgravity and its unique requirements

    • Passenger experience: The one-of-a-kind experience of spaceflight

    A flight provider like Blue Origin recognizes the central role that safe, affordable, and consistent access to space plays in providing for a robust marketplace. For this reason, New Shepherd has followed a modular engineering arch that is aimed at high reusability and cadence. And taking the next step, the New Shepherd team showcases the ways its capsule can be used, specifically soliciting questions on the use of its wide range of payload services that include both pressurized and unpressurized microgravity exposure. This capability is mirrored by science on-station, including as part of Crew Dragon operations and the ISS National Lab.

    Commercial providers and their industry partners exist to capture the value from this type of market, but further recognize their role in advancing sustainable human mission architectures. This is because the development horizon is much deeper than space at the Kármán line; suborbital microgravity will by necessity provide a proving ground for operations in orbit and beyond. Further, commercial enterprise has the ability to thrive in reduced risk, freeing up resources that an agency with high risk tolerance, like NASA, can dedicate to pushing the frontier.

    Inspiration4 launch. The crew included a 4-passenger, all-private complement that gathered large amounts of scientific data as part of operations. SpaceX, September 2021.

    So while Blue Origin’s recent success on NS-20 illustrated the capacity for industry in suborbital space, we can envision an even more dynamic environment where an organization of NASA’s size is only one of many customers. Advancements in human spaceflight will continue to draw on expertise in medicine, science, engineering, and business. A robust suborbital marketplace, as enabled by platforms like New Shepherd, will require this expertise.

    We continue to look forward. Boeing will soon be launching its Starliner vehicle on a ULA Atlas V rocket to prepare for Commercial Crew certification. NASA has selected SpaceX to supply the main component of the lunar Human Landing System for use as early as 2024. While SpaceX’s Starship will provide this role, Blue Origin contested the award of the contract, citing the ability of its own lunar platform, as well as its advanced New Glenn launch vehicle, to contribute directly to a competitive cis-lunar economy. None of this is to mention tomorrow's planned launch of the Axiom-1 flight for a ~10 day stay on the ISS. This critical milestone constitutes a core component of NASA's strategy for LEO commercialization.

    SpaceX’s Axiom-1 is in the foreground on Launch Pad 39A with NASA’s Artemis I in the background on Launch Pad 39B on April 6, 2022.

    Axiom-1 at Pad 39A and Artemis I at Pad 39B, in preparation for the April 8 Crew Dragon launch of the first dedicated private ISS crew. NASA, April 2022.

    And ASP continues its work in supporting the spaceflight industry and its professionals. Our team is continuing the refinement of member offers and resources, as well as publications intended to illuminate key aspects of the spaceflight marketplace. You can expect those insights throughout 2022.

    ASP’s membership shares a mission to develop the next generation of spaceflight professionals and crew, and in doing so, to provide the means for achievement of key milestones in human spaceflight. To support professional development in this way, ASP continues to advance a spectrum of funding facilitation and professional opportunities.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.

  • 19 Apr 2021 7:00 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    It’s been an eventful week, with key achievements coming from NASA and its industry partners for mission profiles from low-Earth orbit to Mars. Today, we start with congratulations for the teams at JPL and NASA for their incredible success in the first powered, off-Earth flight using Ingenuity and the Perseverance rover system. A true Wright Brothers moment, this achievement demonstrates the avenues for technology development used to redefine exploration systems for human and robotics missions.

    Key enabling technologies like Ingenuity have continued to provide for the advancement of sustained human presence in LEO and at the lunar surface. Work by commercial launch providers in the development of advanced human flight systems follow this trend, including continued development of Boeing’s Starliner and the Starship system by SpaceX. Importantly, this development is occurring in the context of Artemis, through which NASA is leading an international partnership to complete a crewed return to the lunar surface and achieve a sustained presence on and around the moon. Alongside long-term lunar research, commerce, and exploration, this set of missions will enable a continuing focus on the development of methods for Mars exploration. NASA needs a crewed lander to make this possible, and last week announced the selection of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle as Artemis’s Human Landing System component. Lunar Starship will operate in conjunction with SLS/Orion, Gateway, and surface transportation systems to complete the Artemis complement.

    SpaceX Starship human lander design, slated to carry the first NASA astronauts to the Moon as part of Artemis. SpaceX, 2021.

    But before achieving a crewed lunar landing in the 2020s, industry’s focus remains squarely on operations near Earth. Thanks to the legacy of the ISS in spaceflight experience and data generation, NASA and its industrial partners continue to benefit from the opportunity to perform science in the context of human missions. Following the success of Crew-1 in mid-November 2020, the Commercial Crew program continues to support ISS crew operations with SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission, scheduled for launch later this week.

    A foundational component of commercial crew is the support of microgravity research as afforded by innovative commercial flight platforms like SpaceX’s Dragon. NASA this week spotlighted the science of Crew-2 and discussed how Dragon and its crew can provide science capabilities not previously available with other ISS-oriented architectures. NASA science administrators focus on the following innovations for crewed science initiatives in Commercial Crew.

    • The previous limiting factor for breadth of science has been crew time for data collection; Dragon provided double crew contact time with research relative to the existing ISS complement of 3 crew

    • Within human research, "standard measures" require different mission durations to sufficiently address the variables presented by changes in the human body; Dragon provides this flexibility in mission timeline

    • Better science can be performed with improved access to launch and landing sites due to the reduction in time from lab to flight; Dragon provides this access

    • Dragon provides 2-3x the scientific payload capacity than previous crew vehicles

    NASA also provided specific examples of the development horizon for scientific initiatives in LEO. Citing the goal of a robust and sustainable market for LEO science and it’s partnership with the ISS National Lab, NIH and NSF, NASA provided an example of science as performed directly by crew.

    • Tissue engineering for the development of clinical applications and pharmaceuticals

    • Microgravity's role in tissue engineering development: Alterations in cell communication help control for gravity, while cell aggregation mimics the in vivo environment

    • Current applications include a 3D bioprinter, tissue chips,  and tissue recellularization

    Other examples of ongoing work include Target’s sponsorship of improved cotton cultivars, Colgate's focus on biofilm research, and Boeing’s partnership with students to study microgravity genetic expression.

    Pre-launch preparations for Crew-2, with capsule Endeavor being readied for flight to the ISS under Commercial Crew. SpaceX, 2021.

    Advancements in human spaceflight will continue to draw on expertise in medicine, science, engineering, and business, and Artemis and Commercial Crew will provide the means for this advancement.  Ingenuity's success on Mars shows the outcomes of this approach.

    ASP’s membership shares a mission to develop the next generation of spaceflight professionals and to provide the means for achievement of key milestones in human spaceflight. To support professional development in this way, ASP continues to advance a spectrum of funding facilitation and professional opportunities.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.

  • 22 Mar 2021 12:00 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    Last week, AIAA held the next in its ASCENDx series, focusing on the support and acceleration of the next generation workforce that will enable key milestones in private and public spaceflight. This event explored topics central to the development of a robust, innovative spaceflight industry, relying on insights from historians and strategic planners to illustrate possibilities in human spaceflight. Panel participants included personnel from Teague and Washington University. Here, we review top insights from the session, with connections to ASP’s current work.

    A recent design initiative from Teague. Teague, 2021.

    Foundational to the development of qualified spaceflight professionals is the role of a multidisciplinary approach to effective professional advancement. As opposed to the hyper-specialization expected of professionals in today’s technological environment, an interdisciplinary skill set has the advantage of integrative problem solving with the capacity to bridge strategic challenges and technical detail.

    A professional environment is directly influenced by community; the extent to which collaboration and advancement are supported by community has shown effect in, for example, the ongoing partnership between NASA and SpaceX. Taken together, skills, capabilities, and culture are core considerations for the development of a qualified workforce.

    We also see the role of both public and private sectors in cultivating innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. Both sectors have the capacity to recognize the need for directional advancement, with varying levels of risk tolerance. Critically, partnerships between academia and industry allow for the connection of skill sets with value creation and delivery. The connection of professional qualification with the application of those capabilities has the effect of expanding collaboration and fueling the growth of an industry.

    In examining possibilities for the future of human spaceflight and the professional bodies that will make human spaceflight milestones possible, The Aerospace Corporation and collaborators have authored the Pathfinder’s Guide. As a synthesis of methods in strategic planning aimed at inspiring enterprises to engage in purpose-driven innovation, the guide recognizes the role of the workforce as a core component of human spaceflight and commercial development.

    Aerospace’s Pathfinder’s Guide. Aerospace Corporation, 2021.

    To support the advancement of this qualified professional body, ASP continues to develop offers in four main areas:

    • Networking and mentorship

    • Funding facilitation

    • Professional certifications

    • Direct project involvement

    Importantly, ASP’s multidisciplinary, dedicated community provides environmental support for the advancement of skills sets across its membership, as well as a connection with the “why” of human spaceflight.

    ASP continues to advance opportunities in support of the next generation of spaceflight professionals. As we continue this development, you can expect new discussions on the methods for ensuring qualified personnel can directly support upcoming milestones in human spaceflight.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.
  • 7 Dec 2020 5:33 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    The spaceflight ecosystem has seen several major achievements since our last entry. These include the successful docking of the Crew-1 complement with the ISS and the start of their expedition on-station, as well as the appointment of a new board of advisors at Blue Origin whose focus is the strategic development of sustainable spaceflight economy.

    Launch of SpaceX CRS-21, Dec 6.

    Assembly, integration, and testing (AI&T) of SLS for Artemis I continues, and the scientific aims for Artemis I have been outlined by NASA. They include goals for understanding planetary processes, interpreting the impact history of the Earth-Moon system, and investigating and mitigating exploration risks. The recognition of these areas of research focus have the effect of setting a precedent for how the resumption of lunar surface operations will sustain ongoing human presence.

    Virgin has also planned its next test flight for VSS Unity, the latest SpaceShipTwo space plane. This will be the third crewed test flight for this architecture, and the first from Virgin’s Spaceport America location in New Mexico. A successful test will directly advance the initiation of suborbital space tourism on Virgin’s platform.

    Recent robotic successes have advanced the understanding of the needs for crewed missions, including CNSA’s successful Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission, as well as the return of samples from Ryugu by JAXA’s Hayabusa 2. In the same way as recent Mars rover missions have paved the way for human exploration, this recent work is the first in a series of steps for establishing sustainable crew operations.

    Milestones in the advancement of mission architectures, from suborbital to cis-lunar to interplanetary transfer, will be enabled by qualified personnel specializing in human flight profiles. Traditionally, NASA’s human spaceflight teams have been trained in high fidelity analogs, high performance aircraft, and expeditionary settings. A variety of analogs have been developed across the globe for the purposes of training and research, including, for example, HISEAS and MDRS, and hundreds of analog crews have participated in these environments.

    Due to the basic importance of experience in these settings, personnel from public and private sectors can be expected to take advantage of the opportunity they provide. Many commercial spaceflight trainers have excelled in developing the services that fill these training needs, from centrifuge experience to parabolic flight. They have also taken major strides in establishing industry standards for commercial spaceflight, and continue to define and quantify training for commercial astronaut candidates. ASP has partnered with several commercial training providers, recognizing the role of an industry-supported certification process in the development of a professional workforce.

    Using the example of traditional FAA medical and qualification standards in use throughout commercial airflight, the utility of a certificate has less to do with its source and more to do with its common acceptance and status as a collectively-informed reference. ASP membership has contributed to the development of this type of standard, including a presentation by Casey Stedman on the need for standardized training.

    We see, then, that as important as the establishment of a standard for certification is the method with which the standard is developed. That is, in order to effectively connect the supply of talent with the organizations that are advancing spaceflight milestones, qualifying personnel through training and certification must reference the demand for the associated skill set. ASP is connecting directly with space agencies, flight providers, and research institutions to ensure that any given training complement fulfills their needs.

    Since training is necessary but not sufficient to meet professional needs, an important component of this work is the integration of resources available to engineers, scientists, pilots, physicians, and other candidate spaceflight professionals. In referencing the demand for qualified personnel, ASP will continue to guide the certifications of these sources of talent and to help provide access to funding and microgravity research opportunities.

    ASP member Makiah Eustice on Industry Day, IAC 2019. Photo Makiah Eustice, 2019.

    To support professional development in this way, ASP continues to advance opportunities across the development spectrum. As we continue this development, you can expect new discussions on the methods for ensuring qualified personnel can directly support upcoming milestones in human spaceflight.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.

  • 9 Nov 2020 10:01 AM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    Conference season is upon us! Organizations including the International Astronautical Federation, AIAA, and the Department of Defense have been hard at work in recent months developing plans for the delivery of their regular conferences in an environment that does not allow face-to-face interaction. Planning for and executing a high-quality event during any other year is large enough of a task; accounting for a worldwide pandemic while continuing to ensure the advancement of key initiatives in spaceflight is a substantial undertaking. And, as highlighted below, three key organizations have excelled in meeting the challenge to showcase the latest advancements in space flight across the globe.

    Photo Michael Gallagher, 2018

    While a significant portion of the infrastructure that enables these annual conferences was already based on digital platforms, administrators and steering committees have needed to balance the disadvantages of a virtual conference (e.g., lack of in-person networking) with providing researchers and thought leaders a forum for continued conversation. Importantly, a key effect of the switch to virtual conference platforms is a reduction in price and the associated increase in attendance, with the capacity to accelerate involvement and advancement of key initiatives.

    Here is a cross section of this season’s major conferences and their efforts to continue to advance spaceflight initiatives amidst major COVID-related concerns.

    International Astronautical Congress, October 12-14, 2020

    The International Astronautical Federation was founded as a global body for space advocacy and coordination, and reaches across academic, commercial, and governmental sectors to encompass proceedings in all major areas of astronautics. The IAC provides a unique combination of international collaboration and depth to their annual conferences, as well as the opportunity to present amongst many other field leaders.

    At this year’s congress, the IAC has maintained all of the core meetings of a regular IAC, including the Plenary Program, Global Networking Forums, Technical Sessions, Special Sessions, and a virtual Exhibition. Major highlights include:

    • 10/12: A panel of the heads of national space agencies and NASA’s Human Exploration Directorate

    • 10/13: Insights on public/private partnerships and Artemis international collaboration

    • 10/14: Plans for a new era of commercial spaceflight as well as the launch of worldwide missions to Mars in the 2020s

    Register and attend here.

    AIAA ASCEND, November 16-18, 2020

    AIAA, as a national organization founded in collaboration, recognized the need for a conference that would be innovative and multidisciplinary by nature, with the goal to inspire and provide technical expertise for the advancement of spaceflight.

    AIAA launched the ASCEND conference in 2020, and had originally planned a standard conference for November. The lineup of speakers and content planned for the conference reflects ASCEND’s goal of a global and interdisciplinary approach to solving some of the key questions for planned spaceflight capabilities. Major highlights include:

    • 11/16: Plenary discussions on space economics and sustainability

    • 11/17: Keynote on plans for human exploration in the coming decades beyond LEO

    • 11/18: A technical session as a primer on cognitive assistants for flight crew

    • Technical and interactive sessions throughout

    Register here.

    NASA HRP IWS, January 25-28, 2021

    The purpose of NASA’s Human Research Program is to address key concerns for human health and performance, as anticipated for various mission profiles. HRP partners with universities and businesses to research and provide solutions to gaps in the Human Research Roadmap, ultimately buying down the risk for human missions of increasing complexity and duration. Importantly, NASA and its partners thrive on innovative solutions to key issues, a trend which we can expect to continue in a virtual version of the event.

    The 2021 Investigators' Workshop Series agenda has not yet been released, but will likely include keynotes from breakthrough researchers as well as a wide range of the newest research addressing core elements of the Human Research Roadmap. Some of the newest researchers, postdocs, and companies will also be highlighted.

    Photo Brett Bennett, 2020

    Find out more here.

    As key annual events in the human spaceflight environment, these conferences provide critical forums for the presentation of the state-of-the-art in spaceflight innovation and development. Join our membership to connect with us at these events and to continue learning more about how we can advance human spaceflight.

  • 2 Nov 2020 3:24 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    We are excited to announce that the team at ASP has launched a brand new platform for the management of its member base. In partnership with Wild Apricot, ASP has built a new site centered around its key offers to its membership, and will continue to roll out this offering in the coming weeks.

    ASP’s members are drawn from a diverse range of expertises and levels of experience. Throughout this multidisciplinary and international community runs the common interest to solve difficult problems in the advancement of human spaceflight, and to strengthen individual spaceflight professional development.

    ASP’s newest digital platform, 2020.

    To provide increasing value to its member base and in anticipation of further growth, ASP has recognized the need to enhance its digital offerings. Its new member management platform will provide for the dissemination of key topics in human spaceflight, act as a central location for resources in technology development, research, and networking, and streamline the management of member accounts. Members and non-members alike will have access to events and products as well.

    Visit us at to see our newest online work.

Association of Spaceflight Professionals

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