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TVA Performs High-altitude Drop Test of Small Payload Return Capsule

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ATLANTA, GA, June 30, 2015 –Last week, Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) performed a high-altitude drop test of a prototype small payload return capsule to demonstrate mission enabling technologies including low-cost communications and electronics systems. The capsule was released from a carrier balloon at over 100,000 feet and descended along a trajectory equivalent to that of an orbital entry. The flight computer and electronics performed as expected, and communications were received throughout the flight. The flight data provides the first validation of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) tracking technology in the descent flight profile of an Earth reentry vehicle, and confirmed ability to transmit through NASA Ames developed conformal thermal protection material. TVA plans to use this material to protect future operational capsules from the extreme heat of reentry.

In addition, as part of this drop test, TVA’s capsule transported a payload provided by Dr. Abba Zubair of the Mayo Clinic in collaboration with the Center for Applied Space Technology (CAST-ARMM) and Morehead State University. The payload serves as a pathfinder for the transportation of high value space-based research products from space back to a terrestrial laboratory. Space-grown stem cells are of particular interest due to potential for faster, more productive growth in the microgravity environment for use in the treatment of human diseases through regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. While there was anomaly with the TVA capsule parachute deployment, the capsule electronics, data loggers, and experimental payload were successfully recovered in good condition. Researchers at Mayo Clinic are currently further examining the returned live stem cells. TVA is in the process of investigating the parachute anomaly to determine root cause, and will endeavor to correct the issue in future vehicles.

“We are pleased with the outcome of this test, and grateful to NASA for supporting the flight opportunity,” said Terminal Velocity CEO Dominic DePasquale. “The results are a testament to the hard work of our engineering team and partners, and a major step toward an affordable orbital shipping service that will greatly enhance utilization of space for medicine, materials research, and other applications. The drop test also demonstrated several technologies in common with TVA’s other reentry devices in development, and of benefit to the broader community.”

The TVA drop test was made possible through the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, with flight services provided by Near Space Corporation from their facilities in Tillamook, Oregon. TVA partnered with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for customization of a space-capable ADS-B unit, and with Parachute Systems Design, LLC for supply of the low-cost parachute. Additional support was provided by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation for testing and verification of ADS-B.

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