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KSC Hosts Private Jet's Suborbital Pathfinder Flights

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Fri Apr 13, 2007 7:09 pm
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Media are invited to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 17 to view the flight of a privately operated F-104 jet aircraft on the first in a series of pathfinder test missions from the space shuttle runway. Starfighters Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., will perform the flights to help in assessing suborbital space launch trajectories from the Shuttle Landing Facility and paving the way for future commercial space tourism and research flights from the facility.

Once the plane has landed at about 10:30 a.m., media will hear brief comments from KSC Director Bill Parsons and F-104 Pilot Rick Svetkoff. Media also will have the opportunity to perform one-on-one interviews and view the aircraft up close at the Shuttle Landing Facility, also known as the SLF.

“This is a key step toward expanding routine use of the SLF by non-NASA flight projects, including commercial suborbital and orbital space launch vehicles,” said KSC Director Bill Parsons.

NASA and Starfighters Inc. have signed a cooperative Space Act Agreement to enable the firm’s F-104 aircraft to fly simulated suborbital flight missions from the spaceport’s 15,000-foot runway. The flights will gather data to support NASA’s assessment of expanding uses of the SLF.

The first two F-104 flights are planned to take place on April 17. Both flights will generate test data to validate sonic boom assumptions about the potential impacts of suborbital and orbital commercial spaceflight from the SLF. NASA is assessing the environmental impact of such flights.

A Starfighter F-104 will take off from the SLF on a northerly trajectory, following the flight path anticipated for suborbital vehicles which may horizontally launch from the SLF. The aircraft will bank east and head out over the Atlantic, where it will climb to an altitude and distance representative of where vehicles accelerating on a suborbital parabolic trajectory will break the sound barrier.

Ground stations will record any discernible sonic boom noise at several locations along the coast. This will assess the noise impact of such flights, both during launches and return flights to a landing at the spaceport.

Future test flights are planned to investigate communications and telemetry systems, and to support the validation of operating procedures that may be used in conducting future suborbital missions and related training flights.

The agreement between NASA and Starfighters is the latest in a series of pathfinder projects that have been conducted at the SLF since late 2005 to investigate the expansion of uses and users for the shuttle runway. NASA’s role in such demonstrations and anticipated future uses is limited to serving as the host site.

Non-government aircraft using NASA’s SLF operate in accordance with applicable Federal Aviation Administration rules and procedures.

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