Thursday, November 3, 2011

Starfighters Begins Testing for Suborbital Flights

Pilot Rick Svetkoff sits in the cockpit of a Starfighters, Inc. F-104 supersonic jet before conducting a high speed taxi test at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Image credit: NASA/Gianni M. Woods.

NASA reported on October 27 that the commercial company Starfighters, Inc. has completed runway testing for potential suborbital nanosatellite launches from Kennedy Space Center.

The taxi test was conducted to verify the aeronautical conditions of Star Lab. This is the first of eight tests the launch vehicle will undergo. The final flight test will use a simulated mock-up vehicle and will be flown over the Atlantic Ocean. After the booster separates, a parachute will carry the payload for splashdown. Sensors and recorders are encapsulated in each launch vehicle tested and data will be analyzed for the build up to the next test. 4Frontiers is aiming for tests to be completed by early 2012, with commercial flights starting mid-2012.

Star Lab has the potential to carry four to 13 payloads per flight. 4Frontiers is hoping to launch 10 rockets per year with multiple payloads, or more than 100 payloads per year. The company is trying to keep the costs as low as possible and charges will include flight integration and return of payload to owner.

The Star Lab suborbital launch vehicle tested was developed by 4Frontiers Corporation, a Florida company founded in 2005. 4Frontiers has commercially partnered with Starfighters, Inc., which will provide F-104 jets as flight platforms to air launch Star Lab. 4Frontiers is an emerging space commerce business focused on developing fundamental space-related capabilities and resources essential for long-duration space flight.

Starfighters operates from the Reusable Launch Vehicle Hangar near the former Shuttle runway, under an agreement with Space Florida. The hangar was originally completed in 2000 for the now-cancelled X-33 and X-34 programs. has more on the Star Lab test.

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