During the last years, the space sector is going through a new period of development and is attracting worldwide the attention of public and private investors looking for new sources of economic growth and innovation. In fact, today we may talk of "space economy", which refers to all the activities dedicated to exploration, research, management and exploitation of space resources to create value and improve the quality of life of human beings.
Main actors of this new economy are still Governments, since space activities are fundamental for strategic and economic goals and for national prestige. However, even if, especially space manufacturing is linked to institutional civil and military investment, in the last two decades an increasing number of private companies engaged in technology development in the space sector, gradually changing the traditional roles of public and private player. In particular, this trend is clear in the US, where many private companies are competing for developing modern spacecraft and launch systems.
A wide range of commercial activities can be envisaged; on one hand, there is the infrastructure development, related for example to satellite manufacturing, launch services, ground stations; on the other hand, commercial services include satellite communication, Earth observation, navigation services, space tourism, microgravity experiments, atmospheric research, technology development.
However, in order to foster the development of the space economy, several though technological challenges needs to be tackled. One of these challenges is related to the development of an efficient, safe, flexible, and responsive space and suborbital transport systems. In fact, understanding the dynamics of flight and developing suitable engine systems for flight vehicles moving between 20 and 100 km of altitude is still far from being achieved. This actually limits the capability of connecting the Earth to low orbit and to transport people and goods among places on the Earth surface in a very short time.
After the closure in 2011 of the space transportation system (STS) program, started in 1981, NASA gave up the challenging idea of developing a space transportation system based on a (partially) reusable vehicle flying through the atmosphere using wings.
Therefore, still today, suborbital and hypersonic flight need the scientific investigation of several technical problems such as, for instance, new engines and control systems, and the understanding of basic thermo-aerodynamic mechanisms characterizing the high-Mach-number stages of the missions and of basic high-velocity combustion physics. The development of future spaceships requires detailed theoretical and experimental analysis of the aero-thermodynamic performance of vehicles and engines in order to improve the capability of controlling the re-entry trajectory of an aerodynamic winged space vehicle and to design point-to-point suborbital transportation systems.
Moreover, together with these technical issues, there are fundamental problems linked to regulation and security of suborbital flight, which needs to be addressed.
The 1st School on Suborbital Flight in Taranto aims at fostering the development of space economy by providing an overview of the scientific, commercial, operational, and regulatory aspects of suborbital flight through seminars by experts from academic, research, and industrial institutions.