The growth in the number and availability of commercial suborbital launch vehicles is allowing a new generation of students and teachers in a variety of education settings – K-12 schools, colleges and universities, museums and nonprofits – to fly and operate experiments in space. Access to flight opportunities has been difficult historically, and prohibitively expensive for most educators and students. But through innovative collaborations among new commercial space companies focused on services and products targeting the STEM education sector, access and affordability are no longer barriers.
As an example, in 2015 two new startups – Edge of Space (EOS) and Arete STEM Project (Arete) – created a partnership focused on helping educators access launches on providers such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Exos Aerospace, and Worldview. In addition, Arete and EOS are collaborating to create a low cost stratospheric balloon launch option for educators and small businesses alike.
Partner Now… Compete Later
With the increasing interest in STEM education, many new commercial space startups are targeting the education market with launch options, products, and services. As one would expect in any new market, there’s a lot of overlap and similarity in these offerings, with the resulting rise of competition in the marketplace.
Originally, in considering startup of the respective companies, there was some overlap between the business models for Arete STEM Project and Edge of Space. The founders of both companies, through early discussions, reached an agreement to partner rather than compete, based on the following two premises: 1) the NewSpace industry is nascent and fragile, particularly for those companies focusing on educational products/services, and thus 2) partnership and collaboration, especially in the early industry stage, rather than overt competition, is key to building both stable companies and a sustainable industry.
The EOS-Arete partnership focuses on offering an educational launch experience, along with products to support both launch and post-launch science, that is 1) easy for teachers of all disciplines and students of all ages and backgrounds to understand and navigate; 2) understanding of the common funding streams available to educators and students, and sensitive to these budgets in project and product development; 3) easily adaptive to and substantially supportive of existing curricula for teaching STEM at all educational levels; and 4) based in a partnership culture focused on remaining nimble and creative, to quickly make changes in meeting educational needs and opportunities as they present themselves.
Minerva: To the Edge of Space… Together
Among the services now offered through this partnership are the Minerva series of stratospheric balloon flights. Schools can secure custom designed and executed flights to altitudes in excess of 110,000 feet for payloads of up to 4 kilograms… at costs starting as low as $1,500 per flight! Or schools can secure a ride share for their experiments on a flight starting at $250.
In addition to customized Arete launches, EOS – working with a group of K-12 science teachers who have experience flying science experiments to space on a variety of launch vehicles – designed a series of biological experiments in comparative plant and animal growth. These can be used as “turnkey” flight experiments by schools flying on Minerva or can be purchased separately as easy to use, affordable classroom science kits.
The potential impact upon students of all ages from this new approach to space flight and STEM education is enormous. Hundreds of thousands of students in the US alone could be engaged through this single commercial partnership. With many other Newspace companies now creating innovative partnerships, the opportunity to bring the excitement of space flight to millions of students around the world, easily and affordably, is at hand!