SpaceX CRS-14 mission all set for science
SpaceX is set to send its next Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station with three tons of supplies and science. The CRS-14 mission will include materials to help the Expeditions 55 and 56 crews conduct and monitor more than 200 science and technology investigations.
As part of SpaceX’s effort to reduce the cost of spaceflight, Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 14 will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 using previously flown hardware. The mission will use a Falcon 9 first stage last flown during the CRS-12 ascent and a Dragon cargo spacecraft that carried science and supplies for the CRS-8 mission.
CRS-14 will carry 5,800 pounds (2,631 kilograms) to ISS. In addition to the science and technology experiments, the mission will bring up basic supplies for astronauts and cosmonauts such as water, food, and clothing.
Liftoff is currently scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EDT (20:30 GMT) April 2, 2018. It will have a one-second launch window as rendezvousing with ISS is a carefully-timed dance of orbital mechanics. After entering orbit, the freighter will spend two days catching up with the outpost before being captured by the station’s robotic Canadarm2 on April 4 for a month-long stay.
At the end of Dragon’s berthed period, it will be loaded with equipment from ISS to return to Earth, including the humanoid-looking utility robot “Robonaut2,” which has a short circuit that must be repaired.
Keeping crews busy
The Expedition 55 and 56 crews will have their hands full as there are over 250 active experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory to tend or monitor. That’s an impressive number, given that the station has supported around 2,500 experiments since 1998.
All the human-tended research investigations being sent up on CRS-14 are led by or have major participation with international partners.
“We can do more together than we could just by ourselves,” said Pete Hasbrook, associate program scientist for the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
This round of science shipments also includes 20 experiments coordinated through the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit, non-government organization that manages the U.S. National Laboratory portion of the space station. CASIS Deputy Chief Scientist Michael Roberts said that the organization is focusing most of its efforts on experiments that demonstrate benefits for life on Earth.
Among those investigations are a pair of experiments from the Genes in Space (GIS) competition, which were developed by U.S. high school students and touch on issues such as bone loss and heart weakness, conditions that affect both astronauts in space and elderly people on Earth.
Another CASIS-coordinated science experiment is a commercial effort by 490 BioTech, which will insert bioluminescent markers inside cells. These markers will glow from inside the cells and should enable scientists to evaluate the health of the cells.
One of the external payloads is a commercial rack built by Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, LLC (Alpha Space) called the Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF). It will provide a place to expose Alpha Space customer products and materials to the space environment.
Another piece of hardware making the trip on CRS-14 is a hard-copy printer, built by HP, Inc., called the HP ENVY ISS. However, unlike the desktop printer you might have at home, this one has been specially designed to meet NASA requirements and was built with zero gravity in mind. It supports paper and waste ink management in zero-g, printing in multiple orientations, and power compatibility with the ISS onboard systems. Much like any other busy office team, ISS crew members print about two reams of paper a month across all of their onboard printers. Hard copies are used for procedural and mission-critical information like emergency e-books, inventory return trajectories, timelines, and personal items such as letters and photographs from home.
On March 19, NASA hosted a media teleconference to feature some of the experiments going up on CRS-14. The range of sciences and nations represented show that ISS is supporting multiple customers, multiple activities, and multiple nations.
Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor
Torsten Neubert, from Denmark’s National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, is the principal investigator for the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM). His investigation will study the formation of upper-atmospheric lightning, known as transient luminous events or terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. These phenomena which occur well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds.
From an external imager located perched the outside of the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory, ASIM will provide the most comprehensive global survey of these flashes to help determine their physics and how they relate to cloud-based lightning.
In response to a question at the teleconference, Neubert indicated ASIM’s results would compared to the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series (GOES-R). While GLM’s resolution is a few kilometers, ASIM, being closer to Earth, will have a resolution of around 1,300 (400 meters).
Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility
The MISSE Flight Facility mentioned earlier is a continuation of the successful MISSE 1 through MISSE 8 payloads, which exposed materials, coatings, and computer hardware to the space environment. However, MISSE-FF is a completely new design that eliminates the need for extravehicular activities by astronauts for its operations.
About the size of a large oven, MISSE-FF will be permanently installed on the exterior of station. It’s environmental exposure tests are designed to evaluate the space survivability, erosion, and utility of materials and hardware, which can be exposed to microgravity, radiation, extreme temperature variations, vacuum, atomic oxygen exposure, and micrometeoroids.
Customers wishing to evaluate materials or hardware aboard MISSE-FF will have regular opportunities to send up their products as Alpha Space Material Sample Carriers (MSCs) will fly up to the outpost every six months or so.
Stephanie Murphy, founder of Alpha Space, told Spaceflight Insider that Alpha Space integrates the materials for the MSC at its facility. When a carrier returns to Earth, the product samples are returned to their investigators.
One of Alpha Space’s first customers is Kim de Groh, a senior materials research engineer NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Her work involves exposing 138 polymer and composite samples to the space environment aboard MISSE-FF to provide critical data to improve predictions of a material’s durability in low-Earth orbit.
DeGroh’s work will study the effects of atomic oxygen, which can erode materials and in-space radiation, which can cause hardware and optics to become brittle over time. The overall effort will be to determine how long a spacecraft material will last, how thick should it be, and which materials should not be used on future missions.
Studying drug-releasing gels
Elaine Horn-Ranney, co-founder and CEO of a company called Tympanogen, is the principal investigator for an experimental method of healing wounds for soldiers on the battlefield or astronauts in space. Her approach would release antibiotics from gels that can cover large wounds and reduce the occurrence and severity of systemic infection and inflammation.
Horn-Ranney told Spaceflight Insider that her company is at least five years away from a market-ready product. For now, this experimental antibiotic mechanism is being tested for how microgravity could affect the way the gel behaves and releases medication. Once the study is concluded, the gels formed on ISS will be returned to Earth.
NASA Sample Cartridge Assembly-Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering
Randall German from San Diego State University is investigating the gravitational effects the sintering—the welding together of powder-like materials by the addition of heat. The NASA Sample Cartridge Assembly-Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering (MSL SCA-GEDS-German) experiment will be sent to the outpost in a Sample Cartridge Assembly.
German seeks to better understand how the lack of gravity affects a process used to produce high-performance products from metal powders. This research could lead to improved manufacturing techniques and could be used to perform in-space fabrication and repairs.
Manufacturing in microgravity has presented challenges in the past. It was originally assumed that sintering would be easier. However there’s no buoyancy in microgravity, so the particles form large clusters and are unable to form denser materials.
German is working with heavy tungsten-based alloys formed at differing durations and temperatures ranging as high as 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit (1,200 degrees Celsius). The experiments will be performed in the Materials Science Research Rack (MSRR) in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module, while most of the analysis will be done post flight.
The investigation could have important implications for in-space repair, additive manufacturing, and general-purpose manufacturing for habitats in low-gravity environments like the Moon or Mars.
The MARROW study
The last experiment featured during the NASA teleconference is being led by Guy Trudel from University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital in Ontario, Canada. The MARROW study, short for “Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red Or White?” will investigate the effects of microgravity on bone marrow, blood cells produced in marrow, and recovery after space missions. The data will be applied to future space explorers as well as healthcare providers on Earth.
Red blood cell function will be measured by having the 14 participating astronauts exhale into sealed bags. Their breath samples will be analyzed using a gas chromatograph. White blood cell function will be studied through blood samples to evaluate their genetic expression.
Perhaps one of the more startling comments Trudel made during the conference was that bone marrow can turn into fat in certain conditions and that process accelerates in low-gravity enviornments. If the process goes for on for two to three years, an astronaut might not have ability to produce blood cells, which would have tremendous implications for long-term missions to destinations like Mars.
Video courtesy of CASIS
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.