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For Immediate Release

April 8, 2013

Media Contact:
Michael Buckley
(240) 228-7536

Workshop to Explore Scientific Potential of Suborbital Spacecraft

April meeting includes first look at creating dedicated research 'space vessels'

While commercial firms design suborbital reusable launch vehicles that could carry tourists to outer space, scientists wonder if these same vehicles could blaze new trails into Earth's upper atmosphere as dedicated research platforms. Experts from the Earth science and commercial space communities will explore these possibilities for the first time in a workshop, "The End of the Ignorosphere," April 28–30 in Annapolis, Md.

Hosted by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the meeting will allow scientists to discuss the latest commercial space developments and determine the utility, challenges and interest for the types of aeronomy investigations — studies of the upper atmosphere — enabled by the rapidly emerging commercial suborbital spacecraft industry.

Aside from vehicle developments, presentations will cover some of the investigations scientists already envision — and organizers invite the community to submit talks on potential atmospheric research that can be conducted up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Earth.

APL's H. Todd Smith, who heads the workshop's scientific organizing committee, says the chance to fly or send equipment to suborbital space — more frequently and at much lower cost than traditional satellite missions — is enticing and exciting. "This could lead to completely new thematic approaches in scientific investigations," he says. "We're talking about establishing a spacecraft as a dedicated research vessel, in the same way we now use aircraft, ships and submarines. Such an asset could revolutionize our understanding of the Earth and our atmosphere, and ignite new scientific, educational and engineering opportunities."

The workshop, which also includes sponsors such as XCOR Aerospace, will be held at the Historic Inns of Annapolis. To register, or for more information, visit the workshop website at

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit