MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Institute of Technology was awarded $500,000 from the Florida Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development for the
Florida Suborbital Commercial Research & Training Program. Former astronaut Sam Durrance, Florida Tech professor of physics and space sciences at
Florida Tech, and will direct the effort.
The program and a center of that name were initiated to attract new business to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site. This effort pursues the new
suborbital personal spaceflight industry by using Florida’s space assets and know-how in two key markets: space and tourism.
Florida Tech is collaborating with Starfighters Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., using the company’s F-104 former military jet. The private aircraft is capable of
simulating the path a horizontally-launched spaceflight might take out of KSC, as well as speeds that would create the sonic booms at a similar location
and altitude. The plane’s G-forces, altitude and speed support research projects in a high-stress flight environment. Add to this the disorientation
created by the flight, and the plane can simulate for tourists a suborbital space mission.
State Senator Thad Altman, former chair of Florida’s House of Representatives Education Innovation committee, was instrumental in obtaining funding for the
project. “I support these efforts. This is the type of program that will significantly benefit NASA and the commercial space industry,” he said.
The program combines the resources of Florida Tech and Starfighters with the NASA KSC Technology Office, NASA’s Shuttle Landing Facility, Melbourne
International Airport, the Federal Aviation Authority, United States Air Force 45th Space Wing and Brevard Regional Hyperbaric Center’s therapy chamber.
The high-altitude environment is ideal to test space suits and life support systems.
Florida Tech and Starfighters will develop an education outreach program for 6th through 12th grade students. The program’s focus will be on the use of the
only commercially available sonic aircraft in the country to teach classes in aerodynamics, high altitude and sonic flight.
“These activities have significant potential to broaden the base of space, aerospace and related technology employment opportunities for the area’s skilled
engineering and technical workforce,” said James E. Ball, center development manager, KSC.
Before becoming a Florida Tech professor in 2004, Durrance was executive director of the Florida Space Research Institute and Director of the Florida Space
Grant Consortium. His career as an astronaut payload specialist, from 1984 to 1996, was preceded by work as a research scientist at Johns Hopkins
University, which he continued through 1996. He earned a doctoral degree from the University of Colorado in astro-geophysics.