Access to the space environment and low earth orbit : what are the opportunities

Lappa, Marcello and Carvil, Philip; Lappa, Marcello and Hamerton, Ian and Roberts, Peter C.E. and Kao, Andrew and Domingos, Marco and Soorghali, Hamid and Carvil, Philip, eds. (2024) Access to the space environment and low earth orbit : what are the opportunities. In: Why Space? Satellite Applications Catapult, Didcot, pp. 14-21. ISBN 9781914241680 (

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For many years, scientists have been utilising platforms both in orbit and on Earth to conduct fundamental research. The ESA Erasmus archives16, contain a database of more than 4100 funded and/or co-founded R&D experiments related to the space sector, from advanced metallurgical processes in microgravity to how biofilms form. As of September 2023, there are already a number of existing incumbents involved in active flight operations, including Arianne Space, Blue Origin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, SpaceX and Virgin (Galactic) to name a few. There are also a number of active access providers supporting customers to fly R&D payloads in space including organisations like Airbus (Bartolomeo), Axiom Space, Ice Cubes, Space Forge (Forge Star), Kayser Space, Open Cosmos and Sierra Space, again to name a few. These capabilities are augmented through access to analogue platforms on Earth, including Drop Towers (e.g. Zarm Drop Tower), Parabolic flights (e.g. Novespace), Sounding rockets (e.g. Swedish Space Consortium) and centrifuges (e.g. ESA ESTEX Long Arm Centrifuge) allowing researchers to understand the effects of variable gravity on material processes on Earth (examples of research on these platforms is discussed later in this section).