A prototype orbital-return capsule, developed by Terminal Velocity Aerospace of Atlanta for use in space science, was released by high-altitude balloon in a NASA test officials say went smoothly.
NASA hopes to use the capsule to return biological samples and other science experiments to Earth more quickly. The U.S. space agency funded testing of the capsule through its Flight Opportunities Program.
In the orbital-return test above Tillamook, Ore., the capsule was dropped from a high altitude by a balloon made by Near Space Corp. of Tillamook. The balloon was launched to an altitude, then was released for descent at a velocity similar to an actual space re-entry.
The test also put mission-enabling technologies and electronic systems through the paces, and the capsule carried and returned a stem cell sample for subsequent analysis. Officials revealed details of the June 21 test Aug. 3.
“We are pleased with the outcome of this test and grateful to NASA for supporting the flight opportunity,” Terminal Velocity CEO Dominic DePasquale said. “The results are a testament to the hard work of our engineering team and partners, and they are a major step toward an affordable orbital shipping service that will greatly enhance utilization of space for medicine, materials and other applications.”
Test flight data proved the first validation of a new tracking technology developed by the Federal Aviation Administration for re-entry spacecraft. Flight communications technology also passed muster in the test, officials said.
“Small entry capsules like Terminal Velocity’s will allow scientific samples from the International Space Station or more distant destinations like an asteroid to return to Earth more regularly, which will provide researchers the samples quicker,” said Paul De Leon, a NASA program manager.