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There’s never been a better time to send a payload to space. Government agencies and companies are offering rides on sounding rockets, high-altitude balloons, suborbital spaceplanes, rockets bound for the International Space Station, and landers headed for the moon and Mars. How can researchers identify opportunities, win awards, and conduct successful flights? Jenn Gustetic, NASA director for early-stage innovation and partnerships, and Alan Stern, Associate Vice President for Southwest Research Institute’s space science and engineering division, offered advice during the 21 April ASCENDxWebinar: Maximizing Payload Success.

Here are seven key takeaways from the webinar.

  1. It’s never too early to consider flight demonstrations. “We encourage awardees as early as possible to think about flight demonstrations since they can accelerate their technology development efforts,” Gustetic says.
  1. Test like you fly and fly like you test. “Make your test program as authentic as possible to reproduce not just the environments, but all of the aspects of the actual flight operation,” Stern says. During Space Shuttle experiments, for example, Stern and his colleagues brought astronauts who would work with research payloads in orbit into their laboratory to practice using the equipment.
  1. Spaceflight is a team sport. “It’s very important that you build a strong team and make sure that your team has all of the skill sets you need to carry the project out,” Stern said. “It’s also very important that you operate as a team with a single focus on success.”
  1. Pay attention to detail. “Spaceflight offers many failure modes in which you won’t achieve your objective,” Stern says. “The only way to succeed is to have a team that’s focused on every detail surrounding the mission.”
  1. Persistence required. NASA has dozens of challenges, prizes, grants, and other initiatives to help speed space technology development, but the process can still take a long time. “Many great ideas face death numerous times before they become breakthroughs,” Gustetic says. “It takes persistence and innovation to achieve ultimate impact.”
  1. Identify mentors. Students looking for mentors can find promising candidates by poking around the NASA Space Technology Research Grant website. Look for faculty and alumni from your university who received awards or fellowships in the past, Gustetic says.
  1. Study Small Business Innovation Research solicitations. “One of the richest documents that exists is the annual SBIR solicitation,” Gustetic says. “It’s almost like data mining. You can go back 10 years and look at how certain technologies are evolving and the ways in which small businesses and universities can help.”

To learn more about maximizing payload success, watch the replay at ascend.events/ascendx/payloads/ and join the conversation at ascend.events/. ASCEND is the outcomes-focused, transdisciplinary event to accelerate the off-world future. We invite you to connect, debate, and help shape the future space economy through year-round virtual webinars, collaborative workshops, and comprehensive summits on current topics of interest.

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