NASTAR Center Completes First ATSA Suborbital Scientist Observatory Training

SOUTHAMPTON, Pa., July 25,2011 — The NASTAR® Center, the premier commercial aerospace training and research center in the world, completed the first dedicated NASTAR Suborbital Scientist Training Program for the Atsa Suborbital Observatory project, with eight team members from the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), The Citadel, and other South Carolina colleges.
The Atsa project will use a reusable suborbital spacecraft equipped with a specially designed telescope to provide low-cost space-based observations above the contaminating atmosphere of Earth, while avoiding some operational constraints of satellite telescope systems.
This was the first dedicated NASTAR Suborbital Scientist training program of its kind focused on a single project. “NASTAR is providing essential input for designing the training regimen we will require for Atsa operators,” said Faith Vilas, PSI Senior Scientist and Atsa Project Scientist.
“Because this is a human-tended observatory, we need to understand in more than a theoretical way how the operator will be affected by the launch environment,” said Luke Sollitt, Atsa Deputy Project Scientist and an Assistant Professor at The Citadel. “This will also impact the design of the interfaces and the instrument itself.”
The three-day NASTAR Suborbital Scientist course equips individuals with hands-on knowledge and skills to safely cope with the rigors of suborbital spaceflight and gives an understanding of the challenges involved with conducting experiments in space. The course includes four core elements: Altitude Physiology, G-Tolerance, Space Launch and Reentry Training, and Distraction Management.
High-altitude physiology training enables trainees to experience the effects of hypoxia or oxygen-deprivation firsthand with an altitude chamber flight to 25,000 feet. Trainees also learn safety protocols and considerations in a loss of cabin pressure event.
G-tolerance flights introduce trainees to the physiological and physiological acceleration effects of spaceflight and teach ways to mitigate the symptoms of gravity-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC). Simulated space flights are conducted on the NASTAR Phoenix STS-400 centrifuge where trainees learn to handle the maximum acceleration G loads encountered during launch and reentry up to 3.5 times Earth’s gravity oriented up-and-down (eyeballs-down) and 6 times Earth’s gravity oriented front-to-back (eyeballs-in).
Participants also complete a distraction/time management exercise to demonstrate the need for teamwork, planning, and practice prior to conducting suborbital research experiments in order to maximize mission success during short duration suborbital flights.
“Atsa telescope operations commence immediately after the spacecraft’s main engine cutoff,” Vilas said. “For this reason, the NASTAR training included flight simulation profiles for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and a vehicle approximating XCOR’s Lynx, so we could test how human performance would be affected by recently experienced G-forces.”
Also participating from PSI were Research Scientist Brent Garry, CEO and Director Mark Sykes, and Senior Scientist Melissa Lane. The undergraduate students participating in the South Carolina Space Grant consortium’s Palmetto Academy program, under the supervision of Professor Sollitt, and are involved in the design and construction of the Atsa Mark 1. These students included Andrew Strasburger from Wofford College, Daniel Showers from Clemson University, and Ryan Boodee and Daniel Pittman from The Citadel.
“The training the Atsa class received is an important first step in understanding how to function and work in a suborbital flight environment,” said Brienna Henwood, Director of Space Training and Research Programs at the NASTAR Center. “The NASTAR Center looks forward to our continued relationship with PSI and the Atsa team as we pursue the next phase of mission-specific research activities and simulated spaceflight missions for the Atsa project.”
About PSI
The Planetary Science Institute (PSI) is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to solar system exploration. It is headquartered in Tucson, Ariz. where it was founded in 1972. PSI scientists are involved in numerous NASA and international missions, the study of Mars and other planets, the Moon, asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, impact physics, the origin of the solar system, extra-solar planet formation, dynamics, the rise of life, and other areas of research. They conduct fieldwork in North America, Australia and Africa. They also are actively involved in science education and public outreach through school programs, children’s books, popular science books and art. PSI scientists are based in 15 states, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russia, Australia and Canada. Go to

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