(Sub) Orbital Space

The objective of the research area “(Sub) Orbital Space” is to create the knowledge base necessary for:

  • Developing selection criteria for the assessment of the physical and mental condition of flight crew and passengers for (sub) orbital space flight.
  • Developing training programs for (sub) orbital space flight.
  • Developing testing methods for human factors aspects of equipment on-board (sub) orbital space flight vehicles.

Context

A new and challenging area in aerospace is suborbital spaceflight. Technologies for suborbital spaceflight are maturing, and the first commercial flights are expected within a few years. A suborbital spacecraft will bring its passengers to an altitude over 100 km (328.000ft) above sea level. A suborbital flight will typically involve G-loads up to 4-6 G during the boost and re-entry phase, and offer about four minutes of weightlessness in the coast phase. Flight duration may vary between less than an hour up to a few hours.

In the short term the commercial application of suborbital spaceflight will be a form of tourism, for paying customers. This concept is interesting for military applications as well, such as the use of a suborbital spaceplane to launch nanosatellites. On the longer term the concept may develop into a way of intercontinental space transportation for fast intercontinental military deployment.

Challenge

Since suborbital spaceflight operates in an extreme environment, it is unclear how suborbital spaceflight is going to affect the flight crew performance in-flight or post-flight (transported troops). It raises concerns about the health and safety of its pilots as well as passengers that cannot be answered completely by knowledge from military aviation or orbital spaceflight. The most obvious difference with military aviation is the flight altitude and the corresponding cabin environment (cabin pressure, oxygen, temperature), as well as the g-profile that includes a push-pull between zero-g and higher-g.

In terms of duration and direction of g-loads, suborbital spaceflight also differs from orbital spaceflight and parabolic flights (Table 1), and data obtained in these environments do not automatically transfer to suborbital flights. Yet, the NASA list of top priority medical issues can be considered relevant for suborbital spaceflight as well, including the “space obstruction syndrome” (e.g. increased intra-ocular pressure and intracranial pressure). Other problems experienced by astronauts upon return to Earth may also apply to suborbital spaceflight, for example orthostatic intolerance and spatial disorientation. 

R&D Topics

The R&D activities of Aeolus in the area of “space” can address the following (sub)topics:

Technology

  1. Cockpit: Human Machine Interface (HMI)
  2. Cabin: Orientation seat

Human performance. Fields of expertise: psychology, physiology, human movement science, operational analysis

  1. Physical performance: Flying skills, man-in-the-loop simulation
  2. Cognitive performance: Spatial disorientation, cognitive task performance
  3. Operational effectiveness

Human comfort and safety

  1. Cardiovascular: G-tolerance, cardiac output, cardiac rhythm disturbances, intra-ocular pressure
  2. Neuro-vestibular: Motion sickness, eye-hand coordination, postural balance post-flight
  3. Musculoskeletal: Cervical load, back pain, vibrations
  4. Respiratory: Oxygen saturation
  5. Psychological: “Break off” phenomenon, panic (e.g., claustrophobia), Bio-feedback, stress management

Products

The R&D activities can support the development of various products, such as:

-       Selection criteria: e.g. physical and mental condition, medication

-       Training programs: e.g. spatial disorientation training, practice of critical flight phase, edutainment programs

-       Equipment: e.g. pressure suit, bio monitoring, orientation of seats on-board, HMI

AEOLUS

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