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Virgin Galactic secures IIAS research spaceflight contract

Posted 3 June 2021 · Add Comment

Virgin Galactic has announced a new contract to fly Kellie Gerardi, a researcher for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), on a dedicated research flight, during which Kellie will conduct experiments and test new healthcare technologies while she is in space.

Virgin Galactic

The IIAS and Virgin Galactic teams will collaborate with academic and government partners to carefully plan Kellie's flight activities to maximise the science and technology advancements gained from the research experiments.

Kellie will utilise the novel scientific research benefits and applications that Virgin Galactic’s Spaceflight System provides for human-tended research experiments to demonstrate and advance the research and knowledge gained from a number of her previous reduced gravity flight campaigns performed here on Earth, including with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Virgin Galactic expects to provide new benefits to the space science research community by offering repeatability, affordability and quality of the weightless environment, which have historically been barriers for many wanting to conduct spaceflight research.

During the spaceflight, Kellie will unbuckle from her seat and undertake the actions necessary to complete each experiment during several minutes of weightlessness. Virgin Galactic will provide bespoke training and preparation so that Kellie is fully equipped to carry out her job as a researcher on this flight and provide on-site pre-flight support for each of the payload experiments. Kellie has previously operated each experiment in reduced gravity flights with the NRC and will be bringing that unique payload specialist experience to the research mission.

The research experiments will include bio-monitoring instrumentation, including the Astroskin Bio-Monitor wearable sensors system. It was developed by Canadian company Carré Technologies Inc. (Hexoskin) with the support of the Canadian Space Agency and is designed to measure the biological effects of launch, weightlessness, re-entry, and landing on spaceflight participants. A second piece of research includes a free-floating fluid configuration experiment, whose data can be used to help inform novel technologies ranging from fluid-based accelerometer systems to humidifiers for spacecraft life support systems, and new syringe designs for administering medication in space.

“We’re thrilled to work with Kellie Gerardi and the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences to help further their research in the bio-medical field,’’ said Michael Colglazier, CEO, Virgin Galactic. “One of the unique aspects of our Spaceflight System is that it is pilot-flown, which means we’re able to fly different flight profiles that meet the needs of our passengers in the cabin – whether that’s scientific experiments or people – or in this case both. A big part of our mission is to provide scientists and researchers with reliable and frequent access to space for space-based research. We are very proud to fly Kellie so she can fulfill a lifelong dream, conduct important research, and inspire the next generation of researchers and astronauts.”

Kellie Gerardi said: “To call this my life’s dream would be an understatement. I’ve been a champion of Virgin Galactic’s mission to democratize access to space from the earliest days, both during my time working a few test stands away at the Mojave Air & Space Port and through my years helping advance the regulatory framework for commercial human spaceflight with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. The opportunity to fly as a payload specialist on a Virgin Galactic spaceflight brings everything full circle for me, and it’s nothing short of an honor to have a front-row seat to the final frontier. I’m grateful to IIAS for the support and confidence they continue to place in me, and I look forward to helping pave the path for many talented researchers who are sure to follow.”

IIAS Founder Dr. Jason Reimuller said: “Kellie has consistently demonstrated capability and professionalism in dynamic, operational, and multi-national research environments while enabling novel research. Additionally, her natural ability for science communication will help expand our nonprofit educational and outreach missions, inspiring others to see space as both inclusive of all and as a laboratory to benefit all of humanity. We look forward to working with Virgin Galactic as we expand our research from parabolic flight and analog environments towards longer-duration microgravity exposures in space.”

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