SpaceX Dragon delivering the science on CRS-10
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — For the first time since 2011, a rocket will be sending supplies and a collection of science experiments for the International Space Station (ISS) from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). However, the Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) 10 mission, scheduled for Feb. 18, 2017, is not being flown by a NASA launch vehicle, but SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Getting the hardware in order
SpaceX’s launch from LC-39A also will be a major milestone for Elon Musk’s rocket company. In addition to being the first flight from the former Apollo and Space Shuttle site, it will mark the company’s first flight from Florida since the Sept. 1, 2016, loss of a Falcon 9 during a static fire test. The accident resulted in the loss of both the rocket and Amos-6 satellite on top and severely damaged Space Launch Complex 40, SpaceX’s other East Coast launch site, which is just south of LC-39A.
The last time SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the ISS was on July 18, 2016.
On Feb. 10, 2017, the California-based company rolled its Falcon 9 and into a vertical position at LC-39A on its new transporter-erector. Two days later, the rocket underwent a static engine test.
In addition to supplies for the station, CRS-10 will deliver several science experiments, including the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument, the Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications experiment, and the Raven spacecraft navigation system, among others.
SAGE III is a NASA Langley Research Center instrument that will be mounted on the Earth-facing side of ISS to study ozone in the atmosphere. The experiment is a follow-on to several previous experiments.
The original SAGE was launched to follow the Stratospheric Aerosol Measurement, or SAM, flown on the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. SAGE II was a part of the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, or ERBS, which the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger deployed in 1984. SAGE III, designed for the ISS, is a near-duplicate of one launched aboard a Russian Meteor-3M satellite in 2001.
CRS-10 also will bring materials to continue supporting a CASIS experiment monitoring the growth of monoclonal antibodies in zero gravity. Monoclonal antibodies are molecules that attach to other specific molecules in the body to aid in fighting multiple human diseases, including cancer.
The CASIS experiment crystallizes a monoclonal antibody developed by Merck Research Labs. It will use microgravity to grow extremely high-quality crystals, which allow scientists to study the proteins’ structure, improve drug delivery and manufacturing, and develop better methods for storing these molecules.
The Raven investigation studies a real-time spacecraft navigation system that provides the sensors and guidance to see a target and steer toward it safely.
Raven also will enable future exploration missions near Earth and beyond, including satellite servicing and repair, asteroid exploration and redirect missions, and the Orion program.
A previous, single-sensor version of the Raven technology flew as the Relative Navigation Sensor (RNS) Payload on STS-125, the fifth Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission.
The Raven visible camera is a repurposed flight unit from the STS-125 demonstration. It also reuses the flash lidar flown as part of the Sensor Test for RelNav Risk Mitigation (STORRM) demonstration on STS-134.
Over its two-year mission on the ISS, Raven will estimate the relative navigation state of the vehicles visiting the station each year in real time. As vehicles approach and depart from ISS, the instrument will monitor them in action and send the data to Earth.
NASA operators will then evaluate how Raven’s technologies work as a system and make system adjustments to increase its tracking performance. The device is expected to monitor approximately 50 individual rendezvous or departure trajectories over the course of its mission.
Other science missions Dragon will carry include the following:
- The Mayo Clinic is leading a study to examine the growth of human stem cells in microgravity. The Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells experiment cultivates human stem cells aboard ISS for use in clinical trials to evaluate their use in treating disease. Results would also advance future studies on how to scale up the expansion of stem cells for treating stroke and other conditions.
- The University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) is leading an investigation into the effects of microgravity on protein crystallization. Proteins are important biological molecules that can be crystallized to provide better views of their structure, which helps scientists understand how they work. Proteins crystallized in microgravity are often higher quality than those grown on Earth. The Effect of Macromolecular Transport on Microgravity Protein Crystallization (LMM Biophysics 1) experiment studies why this is the case, examining the movement of single protein molecules in microgravity.
The Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) will test a charge injection device (CID) in space, attached to the exterior of ISS. A CID-based sensor can be used in astronomy experiments to directly image exoplanets and the distant stars they orbit. If proven successful, this sensor will offer a novel approach to differentiating objects in high-and-low contrast image collection scalable to large aperture space telescopes, airborne and undersea search and rescue, and NASA exploration.
- The Hauptman Woodard Medical Research Institute (HWI) is conducting the Growth Rate Dispersion as a Predictive Indicator for Biological Crystal Samples Where Quality Can be Improved with Microgravity Growth (LMM-Biophysics-3) experiment. Growth rate dispersion is a phenomenon in which seemingly identical crystals, produced under the same conditions, grow at different rates. This effort will study ground-based predictions of which crystals benefit from crystallization in microgravity, where Earth’s gravity does not interfere with their formation.
- The U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research (USACEHR) will be using rats to study the effect of microgravity on healing wounds. Previous studies suggest that microgravity impairs the wound healing process, and microgravity has been shown to have negative effects on skin health in astronauts. This project seeks to identify the molecular foundations of cutaneous (skin) wound healing that are vulnerable to spaceflight-induced stress, potentially revealing biologically relevant pathways for the next generation of wound healing therapies.
- A student experiment from Morehead State University will evaluate smooth muscle cells to test theories about muscle contraction in the absence of gravity.
- A Proof-of-Concept for Gene-RADAR Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study (Nanobiosym Genes) will evaluate the feasibility of a Nanobiosym device to identify and model bacterial mutations in space. The X Prize-winning device can accurately detect any disease that has a genetic fingerprint, in real time and at the point of care. Microgravity might accelerate the rate of bacterial mutations. This investigation will analyze the process in two bacterial strains aboard the International Space Station, which may provide insight into how deadly bacteria become drug-resistant. The data can help refine models of drug resistance and support development of better medicines to counter it.
- NanoRacks, LLC, which manages the educational organization DreamUp, has developed commercial payloads for facilities inside and outside the station and has partnered with the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (sponsored by CASIS) to launch 21 separate MixStix experiments from 21 separate student groups across the country, engaging more than 13,000 students with projects selected from among 2,860 total proposals received.
CRS-10 is scheduled to lift off at 10:01 a.m. EST (15:01 GMT) Feb. 18. The weather outlook for the mission is iffy with a 40 percent chance of a violation of launch constraints. The primary concern a thick cloud layer.
Should a 24-hour delay occur, the weather improves slightly to a 30 percent chance of a weather violation. The primary concern for Feb. 19 is cumulus clouds and precipitation.
Video courtesy of NASA Goddard
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.