Life-sciences research opportunities in commercial suborbital space flight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Commercial suborbital space flights will reach altitudes above 100 km, with 3-5 min of weightlessness bracketed by high-g launch and landing phases. The proposed frequency of these flights, and the large passenger population, present interesting opportunities for researchers in the life sciences. The characteristics of suborbital flight are between those of parabolic and orbital flights, opening up new scientific possibilities and easing the burden for obtaining access to 0g. There are several areas where these flights might be used for research in the life sciences: (1) operational research: preparation for "real" space flight, such as rehearsal of medical procedures, (2) applied research - to answer questions relevant to long-term space flight; (3) passenger health and safety - effects on passengers, relevant to screening and training; (4) basic research in physiological mechanisms - to address issues of fundamental science. We describe possible projects in each of these categories. One in particular spans several areas. Based on the anticipated suborbital flight profiles, observations from parabolic flight, and the wide range of fitness and experience levels of suborbital passengers, sensorimotor disturbances such as motion sickness and disorientation are major concerns. Protocols for pre-flight adaptation of sensorimotor responses might help to alleviate some of these problems, based on results from research in the initial flights. This would improve the passenger experience and add to the knowledge base relevant to space flight more generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-437
Number of pages6
JournalActa Astronautica
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2014


  • Adaptation
  • Human
  • Life sciences
  • Physiology
  • Space flight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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