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A Longitudinal Study of NASA’s APRA Suborbital Program

Presentation #432.04 in the session “Education and Public Engagement II: Broadening Participation in Education and Resources for Students”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
A Longitudinal Study of NASA’s APRA Suborbital Program

We have conducted a longitudinal study of the Astrophysics Research and Analysis (APRA) suborbital program to assess its effectiveness at meeting several goals. The APRA program, which has existed since the late 1990s, is a means by which the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate supports science and research into new technologies for future space missions. In this review, we focus on the suborbital component, which includes balloons, sounding rockets, and other suborbital-class systems. We address the following questions: What are typical mission timelines? What are proposal acceptance rates? How numerous and diverse are participating institutions? How often are individuals participating on proposals? Is the APRA suborbital program training the next generation of scientists?

Among our results, we find that most missions receive funds for more than one APRA cycle, and that PIs with at least one successful proposal have substantially higher acceptance rates than the suborbital average. We also find that the top 5% of institutions appear on significantly more accepted proposals than the rest, and that Minority Serving Institution engagement is minimal. There is significant student participation. With average timelines in excess of 5 years, including some projects that never reach flight, suborbital-class missions could present a challenge to early career researchers. Nonetheless, we show that some students continue on to collaborator, Co-I, and even PI roles on suborbital projects in the future. We suggest another review be conducted once more projects have reached the end of their timeline.


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