Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Aviation Week & Space Technology July 18, 2011

The Tucson, Ariz.-based non-profit space-research center and the entrepreneurial rocket company based in Mojave, Calif., have agreed to develop a human-operated suborbital observatory that could begin living as early as the end of 2012. XCOR jplans to begin flight testing the Mark I variant of its two-seat Lynx spaceplane by October of next year, and PSI will use some of those flight tests to begin evaluating a pathfinder version of its observatory. Dubbed Atsa, the Navajo word for eagle, the observatory will be mounted atop the Lynx fuselage in a pod (see concept) that will be opened to the vacuum of space once the horizontal-takeoff-and-landing spacecraft leaves the upper atmosphere. "We want to make the telescope be able to observe from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared at the very least, and also the visible," says PSI's Faith Vilas, Atsa project scientist. "We don't want limitations brought about by the transmission capabilities of a particular type of window that a spacecraft would use." In operation, the Lynx pilot would fly a trajectory custom designed for a particular astronomical target, using the flight controls for rough pointing down to about 0.5 deg. From there the telescope operator, using a small screen mounted in front of the Lynx passenger seat, would fine-tune the pointing and control exposure time. For the Mark I pathfinder vehicle and instrument, that would be 58-59 sec.