October 23, 2014 – Denver-based UP Aerospace successfully launched SpaceLoft 9 this morning, delivering technology experiments to space. The suborbital SpaceLoft rocket carried four payloads for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. Flight Opportunities payload customers for this launch include NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Controlled Dynamics, Barcelona Tec; NASA test payload, Montana State University; NASA test payload, Celestis Inc.; and the Ninkasi Brewing Company.
The successful launch of NASA’s SL-9 commercial-space, research-payload rocket took place at 7:33 a.m. MDT, which was within the dedicated 2-hour launch window, and flight data indicate the rocket attained a maximum altitude of approximately 77 miles (124 km), beating the old Spaceport America altitude record by four miles. The parachute recovery system brought the SpaceLoft rocket and its payload safely back and it was recovered intact 25 miles (40km) downrange, as planned.
“It’s great to see NASA return to Spaceport America for another successful Flight Opportunities sub-orbital launch mission today,” said NMSA Director Christine Anderson. “We also want to congratulate UP Aerospace, who has been launching with us for more than eight years.”
This was UP Aerospace’s first flight of the year. The launch is part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which uses low-cost commercial launch services to test new space technologies for NASA and other government agencies, as well as for educational institutions and the private sector. Last year, UP Aerospace launched more than a dozen payloads under the Flight Opportunities Program.
The SpaceLoft is a reusable launch vehicle that was developed by UP Aerospace in 2006 as a microgravity research platform for education, scientific research, and commercial payloads. The vehicle consists of an expendable carbon composite solid rocket booster, avionics and recovery section, and a payload bay.
The heart of the SpaceLoft system is the Payload Transportation System (PTS). Each standard mission contains seven PTS containers. The containers come in two different sizes and have access to the space environment through openings in the vehicle airframe and access panels. Options for each PTS include discrete command, power modules, and telemetry, which can be customized to match specific payload requirements.
SpaceLoft is ground launched from Spaceport America using a remote hydraulic launcher and automated launch systems. The solid rocket motor burns for 12 seconds and reaches space within 60 seconds. A de-spin system slows the roll rate to near zero when microgravity experiments can begin to be conducted.
The payload section remains weightless in excess of 4 minutes, during which time the experimental technologies are exposed to the space environments where they are expected to operate. This gives researchers critical feedback about their technology, which aids in the maturation of technology for future space missions.
During the re-entry phase of the flight, the booster section is released and the payload and recovery sections are balanced to trim in a horizontal orientation to slow the vehicle. At about a mile above the ground, redundant onboard controls release the drogue parachute system, which orientates the payload section in a vertical heads down attitude. Ten seconds after drogue deploy, the main parachute is released and provides a soft landing on White Sands Missile Range.
This was UP Aerospace’s 13th launch from the spaceport since 2006. Two UP Aerospace flights are planned for next year.