30 Jan : WASHINGTON — NASA is looking for new technologies that have potential use in future agency projects which could benefit from testing during flights on an airplane that simulates the weightless conditions of space. The technologies may improve air and space vehicle capabilities and support future systems used in space exploration.
NASA’s Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training, or FAST, program helps emerging technologies mature through testing in a reduced gravity environment. To prepare technologies for space applications, it is important to demonstrate they work in a zero-gravity environment. This unique testing environment can be provided in an aircraft flying repeated parabolic trajectories which create brief periods of zero gravity. The aircraft also can simulate reduced-gravity levels similar to those found on the surface of the moon or Mars.
The testing opportunities are being offered to U.S. companies, individuals, academic or research institutions, or government agencies. Through a partnership agreement, NASA will provide free flight time for the tests while project teams will be responsible for all other expenses. Proposals are due by March 20. Flights to demonstrate the technologies will be conducted in August 2009 from Ellington Field in Houston. NASA expects to select at least 20 projects for this round of test flights, pending availability of funding.
Initial reduced-gravity tests with small businesses developing technologies for NASA were conducted in September 2008. Those tests validated the FAST concept and paved the way for this broader opportunity for all U.S. organizations developing technology NASA may need. In the future, the FAST program expects to provide more extensive technology testing opportunities, with suborbital flights as well as orbital flights, when such commercial services become available.
NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington manages the FAST program. The Reduced Gravity Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is providing test management for the flights. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is providing technical assistance to the FAST program.