A new space system known as METEOR offers significant enhancement of the U.S. capability for commercial experimentation in space. METEOR is a compression of Multipurpose Experiment Transporter to low Earth Orbit and Return, a title that pretty much defines the project: demonstration of an unmanned commercial space system capable of flying and recovering small research and commercial payloads that require longer exposure to the microgravity environment than is possible aboard the Space Shuttle.
METEOR was developed and built by EER Systems Corporation, Vienna, Virginia, using components from a prior NASA program known as COMET. At Spinoff publication time, the METEOR system was being readied for its initial launch in midsummer 1995 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia. METEOR's booster is the Conestoga launch vehicle, also developed by EER. Goddard Space Flight Center is program manager.
The initial flight contained several microgravity experiments - about half sponsored by NASA and the remainder by private industry - housed in two payload modules. Experiments requiring long duration exposure to space are housed in the service module, which is designed to transmit data from low Earth orbit for about a year. Experiments that are enhanced by periods of microgravity longer than the Shuttle can provide, and those that require postflight analysis on Earth, are housed in the recovery module, which was to remain in orbit for approximately one month, then return to a water landing about 100 miles off Wallops Island.
The experiment complement for the initial flight cut across a number of research disciplines, including navigational aids, ultraviolet and remote sensing instruments, materials exposure to space, plant/crystal growth, and new spacecraft technology demonstrations. The initial flight also marked the first launch of the Conestoga vehicle.
The METEOR system offers an affordable alternative for conducting in-space experiments that do not require human presence. Its launch by expendable boosters gives experimenters flexibility in selecting orbital parameters different from those of the Space Shuttle.