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Space Health Research and Development opportunities on suborbital flights - Call for ideas

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Government of Canada

Issued by:
Canadian Space Agency (CSA)
Space Exploration Development Directorate
6767 Route de l'Aéroport
Borough of Saint-Hubert
Longueuil, Quebec Canada J3Y 8Y9

Publication date:

Application deadline:

Purpose and scope

The CSA proposes to explore the feasibility of regular suborbital flight campaigns for Canadian academic scientists involved in life and health science, and biomedical technology innovators seizing emerging research opportunities offered by commercial spaceflight carriers, and to preparing for new markets arising from democratization of access to space.

The microgravity environment during suborbital flight can help advance research and discoveries that lead to breakthrough science and innovation in priority areas, such as health and biomedical technologies. These flights, with ~4 continuous minutes of microgravity and the ability for humans to tend the experiments, fill a gap between the ~20 seconds of microgravity provided by parabolic flights at low cost, and the months/years of microgravity provided for experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) at high cost. Several space companies have recently expanded their business model to include flights for scientific investigators and space business entrepreneurs in need of microgravity testing and validation.

Furthermore, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recently released a solicitation titled "Technology Advancement Utilizing Suborbital and Orbital Flight Opportunities 'Tech Flights'" as an Appendix to the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) umbrella NASA Research Announcement (NRA) titled "Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion (SpaceTech-REDDI-)."As other major space agencies are using this new platform to perform space research and technology validation, the CSA is considering supporting Canadian research in Health and Life Sciences on board suborbital flights and is therefore soliciting comments from the broader community about how to do so. These ideas will be used to:

  1. Estimate the value of conducting research and testing during suborbital flights.
  2. Prepare a list of Health and Life Science objectives appropriate for these missions.
  3. Identify potential technologies for validation in a microgravity environment.
  4. Confirm the resource requirement for these research projects.
  5. Validate the proposed funding mechanism.

General approach

The CSA is considering funding a test suborbital flight to confirm the value of this platform for supporting scientific investigations or technology development. If the results of this pilot initiative confirm the benefits of using suborbital vehicles, this could lead to a sustained suborbital flight program with regular opportunities. For the pilot test, one flight provider and up to two payloads/investigations that could be launched simultaneously in a suborbital flight, with or without an operator on-board, would be selected. A first competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) to select investigations and payloads, and another competitive RFP to select the suborbital flight provider would be released. This pilot test would be supported by contracts, not grants or contributions, since the purpose of this test would be to gather information that will influence future decision-making for CSA programs. Consequently, contractees will be required to submit reports with details on their experience leading up to, including, and after the suborbital flight. The current model is to have universities or companies develop the hardware needed for the suborbital flight payload developed in house, as is currently done for CSA balloon and parabolic flight campaigns. It is expected that one 6-month contract would be awarded to suborbital flight providers and up to two 8-month contracts would be awarded to support R&D by science teams or the industry. Preliminary information on suborbital flight characteristics is provided in Appendix A.

Focus of the CFI

The CSA welcomes ideas on the following elements of the initiative:

  1. Based on the information provided in Appendix A, what type of investigations and/or technology development would benefit from suborbital flights?
  2. Estimate of the time (months) required to prepare a scientific payload or a technology demonstration to be flown in suborbital flight.
  3. Provide a rough order magnitude (ROM) estimate of the power, mass and volume of the scientific study or technology demonstration, as well as any special requirements (e.g. cooling or heating).
  4. Estimate of the budget for a contract supporting the preparation and operation of
    1. a science investigation, or
    2. a technology validation.
  5. Indicate what would be the benefit of including a flight participant as a payload operator or experimental subject.
  6. Which suborbital flight provider would be the most adapted for your research needs (a list of US commercial suborbital flight providers is accessible using this link)?

CFI terms

Information collected in this process is for planning purposes only and cannot be construed as intent to issue announcement of opportunities, grants or Request For Proposals (RFP) from CSA. Responses will remain anonymous. All information provided in response to this CFI is non-binding.

This CFI shall in no way be considered as authorization by the CSA for respondents to undertake any work, which would result in costs to the CSA. The CSA shall not be liable for, nor shall it reimburse any respondents for, any costs, fees or expenses, which any respondent incurs in the preparation or submission of its response to this CFI.

The CSA does not intend to publicly disclose any proprietary or confidential information obtained during this CFI. To the full extent that it is protected pursuant to the Access to Information Act, any information identified by a respondent as "Proprietary" or "Confidential" will be kept confidential.

CFI due date

Responses to this CFI should be submitted before midnight (ET) , to allow time to review all responses submitted, and potentially plan for a Request for Proposals.

How to submit your response

Your CFI response shall be delivered by email to: using the Response Submission Form. All communication regarding the content of this CFI and additional questions must be sent to this address as well.

Appendix A: Characteristics of suborbital flights

Here is some preliminary information provided by U.S. companies (these are examples; other companies could be eligible):

Characteristics of suborbital flights of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic
Blue Origin Virgin Galactic
Vehicle New Shepard SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity
Launch site Van Horn, Texas Rutan Field, Mojave, California
Top altitude Over 100 kilometers (62 miles) Over 100 kilometers (62 miles)
Max acceleration 2.8 g (launch), 4.7 g (re-entry) 3.6 g (launch), 5.4 g (re-entry)
Payload racks Up to six payload stacks Up to 50 cubic feet or rack space
Payload lockers 36 individual Payload Lockers 36 individual Payload Lockers
Flight duration About 20 minutes About 120 minutes
Microgravity duration 3 to 4 minutes 3 to 4.5 minutes
Power Four 26V services, 2A max draw Payloads must be self-powered during flight
Data Can be stored in the locker No data storage for payloads
Web sites Payloads | Blue Origin Virgin Galactic | Research Flights
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