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NASA Uses Commercial Microgravity Flight Services For First Time


WASHINGTON -- NASA for the first time last week used microgravity research flights aboard commercially-owned aircraft to test hardware and technologies. These flights, on an airplane operated by the Zero Gravity Corporation, simulated the weightless conditions of space.

In addition to numerous NASA experiments, five companies sponsored by the agency’s Innovative Partnerships Program flew experiments aboard the reduced-gravity aircraft flights from Ellington Field in Houston. The flights were the first in NASA’s Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training program, called FAST.

The companies, which are participating in the Small Business Innovation Research program, tested five new technologies Sept. 9-10:

- Pneumatic mining under lunar gravity conditions (Honeybee Robotics of New York)
- Aircraft sensor-logger operations (Metis Design Corporation of Cambridge, Mass.)
- Microgravity flight testing of self-deploying shells (Mevicon Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.)
- Virtual sensor test instrumentation operations (Mobitrum Corporation of Silver Spring, Md.)
- Nanofluid coolant testing (nanoComposix, Inc. of San Diego, Calif.)

Representatives of the companies were aboard the aircraft to operate and evaluate their technologies during the flights, which created zero-gravity and lunar-gravity conditions. The technologies will improve air and space vehicle capabilities and support the design of systems for the exploration of the moon and operations there.

NASA’s contract with the Zero Gravity Corporation of Las Vegas, which is managed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, is part of an effort to expand the agency’s use of commercial services. The flights were conducted from Ellington Field with the nearby Johnson Space Center in Houston providing technical support to the participating experimenters

Weightless conditions are achieved by flying an airplane on a parabolic trajectory. A typical flight lasting two hours consists of 50 parabolas, generating up to 25 seconds of microgravity during each parabola.

Four days of flights originally were scheduled in September, but the approach of Hurricane Ike caused those scheduled Sept. 11-12 to be suspended. An effort will be made to reschedule the flights in the future. NASA’s first flights with the Zero Gravity Corporation occurred the week of Aug. 25. More flights are planned in October, November and January.

A call for new proposals for FAST program flights in 2009 will be issued later this month. It will be open to any companies or organizations working on technologies of value to NASA.

For more information about FAST, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


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