Science Laden SpaceX Dragon Set for Aug. 14 ISS Launch, Testfire Inaugurates Triad of August Florida Liftoffs: Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontally at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 13 Aug. 2017 while being processed for liftoff of the Dragon CRS-12 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) slated for 14 Aug. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A triad of August liftoffs from the Florida Space Coast inaugurates Monday, Aug. 14 with a science laden commercial SpaceX Dragon bound for the International Space Station (ISS) – loaded with over 3 tons of NASA science, hardware and supplies including a cosmic ray detector, medical research experiments dealing with Parkinson’s disease and lung tissue, vegetable seeds, mice and much more, following a successful engine test firing of the Falcon 9 booster on Thursday.

“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete,” SpaceX confirmed via Twitter soon after completion of the test at 9:10 a.m. EDT, Aug 10. (1310 GMT) “—targeting August 14 launch from Pad 39A for Dragon’s next resupply mission to the @Space_Station.”

Check out our photos & videos herein of the Aug. 10 static first test of the Falcon 9 first stage that paves the path to blastoff – as witnessed live by Ken Kremer and Jeff Seibert.

The triple headed sunshine state space spectacular kicks off with Monday’s lunchtime launch of the next unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter to the ISS from seaside pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, now targeted for Aug. 14 at 12:31 p.m. EDT (1631 GMT).

The closely spaced trio of space launches marches forward barely 4 days later with liftoff of NASA’s amazingly insectoid-looking TDRS-M science relay comsat slated for Friday morning Aug. 18 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

Lastly, a week after TDRS-M and just 11 days after the SpaceX Dragon an Orbital ATK Minotaur 4 rocket is due to blastoff just before midnight Aug. 25 and carry the ORS 5 mission to orbit for the U.S. military’s Operationally Responsive Space program. The Minotaur IV utilizes three stages from decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBMs formerly aimed at the Russians.

Of course getting 3 rockets off the ground from 3 different companies is all highly dependent on Florida’s hugely fickle hurricane season weather and the ever present reality of potential technical glitches, errant boaters and more – possibly resulting in a domino effect of cascading launch scrubs.

And sandwiched in between the Florida Space Coast blastoffs is the Total Solar ‘Eclipse Across America’ on Monday, Aug. 21 – for the first time in 99 years!

Although KSC and central Florida are not within the path of totality, the sun will still be about 85% obscured by the Moon.

So if you’re looking for bang for the space buck, the next two weeks have a lot to offer space and astronomy enthusiasts.

1st Reused SpaceX Dragon cargo craft lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:07 p.m. June 3, 2017 on CRS-11 mission carrying 3 tons of research equipment, cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Dragon resupply ship dubbed Dragon CRS-12 counts as SpaceX’s twelfth contracted commercial resupply services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station for NASA since 2012.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Aug. 10, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl as seen from Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the uncrewed Dragon CRS-12 resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this video of the Aug. 10 static hotfire test:

Video Caption: Hot fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for it launching the NASA CRS-12 Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The 20-foot high, 12-foot-diameter Dragon CRS-12 vessel is carrying more than 6,400 pounds ( 2,900 kg) of science experiments and research instruments, crew supplies, food water, clothing, hardware, gear and spare parts to the million pound orbiting laboratory complex. 20 mice are also onboard. This will support dozens of the 250 research investigations and experiments being conducted by Expedition 52 and 53 crew members.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Aug. 10, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl as seen from Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the uncrewed Dragon CRS-12 resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

If you can’t personally be here to witness the launch in Florida, you can always watch NASA’s live coverage on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-12 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning noon on Aug. 14 with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX will also offer their own live webcast beginning approximately 15 minutes before launch at about 12:16 p.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can also watch the launch live at SpaceX hosted Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Tuesday, Aug. 15 with NASA TV coverage starting about 11:30 a.m. EDT.

The weather looks decent at this time with a 70% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Aug. 14 are cumulus clouds and the potential for precipitation in the flight path.

The odds remain at 70% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Aug. 15.

Everything is currently on track for Monday’s noontime launch of the 230 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 on the NASA contracted SpaceX CRS-12 resupply mission to the million pound orbiting lab complex.

However since the launch window is instantaneous there is no margin for error. In case any delays arise during the countdown due to technical or weather issues a 24 hour scrub to Tuesday will result.

The lunchtime launch coincidently offers a convenient and spectacular opportunity for fun for the whole family as space enthusiasts flock in from around the globe.

Plus SpaceX will attempt a land landing of the 156 foot tall first stage back at the Cape at Landing Zone 1 some 8 minutes after liftoff – thus a double whammy of space action !!– punctuated by multiple loud sonic booms at booster landing time that will figuratively knock your socks off.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 3 June 2017 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has successfully recovered 13 boosters; 5 by land and 8 by sea, over the past 18 months. It’s a feat straight out of science fiction but aimed at drastically slashing the high cost of access to space.

The recent BulgariaSat-1 and Iridium-2 missions counted as the eighth and ninth SpaceX launches of 2017.

CRS-12 marks the eleventh SpaceX launch of 2017 and will establish a new single year record.

In contrast to the prior CRS-11 mission which flew a recycled Dragon, the CRS-12 Dragon is newly built.

The CRS-12 Dragon will be the last newly built one, says NASA. The remaining SpaceX CRS mission will utilize reused spaceships.

The Falcon 9 is also new and will attempt a land landing back at the Cape at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1).

If the Aug. 14 launch occurs as scheduled, the Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit about 10 minutes later and deploy its life giving solar arrays. Dragon then begins a 2 day orbital chase of the station via a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings that bring the commercial spacecraft to rendezvous with the space station on Aug. 16.

Dragon will be grappled with the station’s Canadian built robotic arm at approximately 7 a.m. EDT on Aug. 16 by astronauts Jack Fischer of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency). It then will be installed on the Harmony module.

The Dragon spacecraft will spend approximately one month attached to the space station, returning to Earth in mid-September with results of earlier experiments.

Dragon CRS-12 is SpaceX’s third contracted resupply mission to launch this year for NASA.

The prior SpaceX cargo ships launched on Feb 19 and June 3, 2017 on the CRS-10 and CRS-11 missions to the space station. CRS-10 is further noteworthy as being the first SpaceX launch of a Falcon 9 from NASA’s historic pad 39A.

SpaceX leased pad 39A from NASA in 2014 and after refurbishments placed the pad back in service this year for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011.

Previous launches include 11 Apollo flights, the launch of the unmanned Skylab in 1973, 82 shuttle flights and five SpaceX launches.

Cargo Manifest for CRS-12:

TOTAL CARGO: 6415.4 lbs. / 2910 kg

TOTAL PRESSURIZED CARGO WITH PACKAGING: 3642 lbs. / 1652 kg
• Science Investigations 2019.4 lbs. / 916 kg
• Crew Supplies 485 lbs. / 220 kg
• Vehicle Hardware 747.4 lbs. / 339 kg
• Spacewalk Equipment 66.1 lbs. / 30 kg
• Computer Resources 116.8 lbs. / 53 kg

UNPRESSURIZED 2773.4 lbs. / 1258 kg
• Cosmic-Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) 2773.4 lbs. / 1258 kg

The CREAM instrument from the University of Maryland will be stowed for launch inside the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. Astronauts will use the stations robotic arm to pluck it from the trunk and attach it to the exposed porch of the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM).

The Cosmic-Ray Energetics and Mass investigation (CREAM) instrument from the University of Maryland, College Park involves placing a balloon-borne instrument aboard the International Space Station to measure the charges of cosmic rays over a period of three years. CREAM will be attached to the Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility. Existing CREAM hardware used for balloon flights. Credit: NASA

Here is a NASA description of CREAM:

The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) instrument, attached to the Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility, measures the charges of cosmic rays ranging from hydrogen to iron nuclei. The data collected from the CREAM instrument will be used to address fundamental science questions on the origins and history of cosmic rays. CREAM’s three-year mission will help the scientific community build a stronger understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe.

The LRRK2 experiment seeks to grow larger crystals of the protein to investigate Parkinson’s disease and help develop new therapies:

Here is a NASA description of LRRK2:

Crystallization of Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) under Microgravity Conditions (CASIS PCG 7) will use the orbiting laboratory’s microgravity environment to grow larger versions of this important protein, implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Anatrace and Com-Pac International, researchers will look to take advantage of the station’s microgravity environment which allows protein crystals to grow larger and in more perfect shapes than earth-grown crystals, allowing them to be better analyzed on Earth. Defining the exact shape and morphology of LRRK2 would help scientists to better understand the pathology of Parkinson’s and aid in the development of therapies against this target.

Watch this Michael J. Fox video describing the LRRK2 crystallization experiment:

Video Caption: ISS National Lab SpaceX CRS-12 Payload Overview: Michael J. Fox Foundation. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is sending an experiment to the ISS National Lab to investigate the LRRK2 protein, a key target in identifying the makeup of Parkinson’s disease.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite CRS-12, TRDS-M, and ORS 5 and NASA mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 resupply launch to ISS on Aug. 14, ULA Atlas TDRS-M NASA comsat on Aug. 18, 2017 Solar Eclipse, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Aug 12-14: “SpaceX CRS-12 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply vessel atop Falcon 9 rocket and delivering 3 tons of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Liftoff occurred 3 June 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Inside the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, FL,NASA’s massive, insect like Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-M, spacecraft is undergoing preflight processing during media visit on 13 July 2017. TDRS-M will transmit critical science data gathered by the ISS, Hubble and numerous NASA Earth science missions. It is being prepared for encapsulation inside its payload fairing prior to being transported to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on 3 August 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Groot & Rocket Raccoon Get Their Own Mission Patch

In 2011, the US government created the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the US National Laboratory aboard the International Space Station,. With the purpose of ensuring that research opportunities provided by the ISS are used to their full potential, CASIS also seeks to inspire new generations of students to become involved in STEMs research and space exploration.

With the next generation in mind, CASIS recently announced the creation of a new mission patch that is sure to appeal to sci-fi fans and space enthusiasts! The patch features Groot and Rocket Raccoon, two characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, and was designed by Marvel Comic’s Custom Solution Group. For the remainder of 2016, it will represent all payloads that are destined for the ISS’  US National Laboratory.

The announcement came at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, where tens of thousands of fans were gathered to witness the latest from their favorite sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book franchises. In between all the trailers and fanfare, members of CASIS held a panel discussion to talk about their collaboration with Marvel, and explained why it was these two Guardians characters that were selected to promote activities aboard the ISS.

This mission patch, featuring Groot and Rocket Racoon, will adorn all cargo going to CASIS labs in 2016. Credit: iss-casis.org
This mission patch, featuring Groot and Rocket Racoon, will adorn all cargo going to CASIS labs in 2016. Credit: iss-casis.org

As Patrick O’Neill, a representative of CASIS, was quoted by The Verge as saying: “These are characters who have a bit of a space-based background to begin with. So both of [these] characters already embody some of the characteristics associated with what’s happening on the space station.”

The patch – which was designed by famed Marvel artist “Juan Doe” – features Groot and Rocket Racoon staring up at the ISS, which is floating overhead. In and around them, stars that are made to look like the flames from the Guardian of the Galaxy shield are positioned. In addition to being artistically creative, the symbolism could not be more clear: pop-culture icons and the ISS National Lab coming together to raise awareness about important scientific research!

During 2016, the U.S. National Lab plans to conduct over 100 science investigations aboard the ISS, with experiments involving the physical and material sciences, technological development, Earth observation and student inquiries. Thanks to its partnership with Marvel, the Guardians-inspired patch will adorn every payload that is sent to the ISS as part of these research initiatives.

Obviously, this partnership has been a good way for Marvel to promote one of the latest installments in its cinematic universe (not to mention its upcoming sequel). But for CASIS, it was also an opportunity to draw attention to the work of the U.S. National Lab. Traditionally, CASIS is responsible for providing seed money to research projects and product development. But a major aspect of their work also includes providing expertise, access, support, and educational outreach.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), shown here as part of the ISS. Credit: iss-casis.org
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), shown here as part of the ISS. Credit: iss-casis.org

As Ken Shields, the CASIS Director of Operations and Educational Opportunities, said in a CASIS press release:

“A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the ISS National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted on our orbiting laboratory. There are very few brands in the world who have as large an impact as Marvel, and we are thrilled to partner with them on this project and look forward to Rocket and Groot inspiring a new generation of researchers interested in the space station.”

Later this year, CASIS also hopes to use these characters in an upcoming educational flight contest intended to inspire children to become the next generation of scientists and engineers. News of the mission patch also came amidst announcements that Rocket and Groot will be star in their own Rocket Raccoon and Groot comic, and will be returning to the big screen next summer for Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Obviously, this is going to be a good year for a certain tree alien and hyper-raccoon! And be sure to check out this video of the creation of the new mission patch, courtesy of CASIS:

Further Reading: iss-casis.org

Student Scientists Get Second Chance to Fly Experiments to ISS Aboard Falcon 9 After Antares Loss

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops – Will Refly on SpaceX CRS 5
Science experiments from these students representing 18 school communities across America were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS and which were lost when the rocket exploded uexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). The students pose here with SSEP program director Dr. Jeff Goldstein prior to Antares launch. The experiments will be re-flown aboard SpaceX CRS-5. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com[/caption]

When it comes to science and space exploration, you have to get accustomed to a mix of success and failure.

If you’re wise you learn from failure and turn adversity around into a future success.

Such is the case for the resilient student scientists who learned a hard lesson of life at a young age when the space science experiments they poured their hearts and souls into for the chance of a lifetime to launch research investigations aboard the Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on the Orb-3 mission, incomprehensibly exploded in flames before their eyes on Oct. 28, 2014.

Those student researchers from across America are being given a second chance and will have their reconstituted experiments re-flown on the impending SpaceX CRS-5 mission launch, thanks to the tireless efforts of NASA, NanoRacks, CASIS, SpaceX and the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) which runs the program.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch to the ISS on the Falcon 9 rocket planned for this morning, Jan. 6, was scrubbed with a minute to go for technical reasons and has been reset to no earlier than Jan. 9.

SSEP Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein shows a NanoRacks Mix-Stix tube used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/Student Spaceflight Experiments Program -Yankee Clipper mission during presentation at NASA Wallops prior to Oct. 28 Antares launch failure.  17 of 18 experiments will re-fly on SpaceX CRS-5 launch.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
SSEP Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein shows a NanoRacks Mix-Stix tube used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/Student Spaceflight Experiments Program -Yankee Clipper mission during presentation at NASA Wallops prior to Oct. 28 Antares launch failure. 17 of 18 experiments will re-fly on SpaceX CRS-5 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The experiments are known collectively as the ‘Yankee Clipper’ mission.

Antares Orb-3 was destroyed shortly after the exhilarating blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore.

Everything aboard the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and ‘the SS Deke Slayton’ Cygnus cargo freighter was lost, including all the NASA supplies and research as well as the student investigations.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The student program represents 18 experiments flying as the Yankee Clipper,” said Dr. Jeff Goldstein, in an interview with Universe Today at NASA Wallops prior to the Antares launch. Goldstein is director of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which oversees SSEP in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

“Altogether 8 communities sent delegations. 41 student researchers were at NASA Wallops for the launch and SSEP media briefing.”

“The 18 experiments flying as the SSEP Yankee Clipper payload reflect the 18 communities participating in Mission 6 to ISS.”

“The communities represent grade 5 to 16 schools from all across America including Washington, DC; Kalamazoo, MI; Berkeley Heights and Ocean City, NJ; Colleton County and North Charleston, SC, and Knox County and Somerville, TN.”

Goldstein explains that within days of the launch failure, efforts were in progress to re-fly the experiments.

“Failure happens in science and what we do in the face of that failure defines who we are,” said Goldstein, “NASA and NanoRacks moved mountains to get us on the next launch, SpaceX CRS-5. We faced an insanely tight turnaround, but all the student teams stepped up to the plate.”

Even the NASA Administrator Charles Bolden lauded the students efforts and perseverance!

“I try to teach students, when I speak to them, not to be afraid of failure. An elementary school student once told me, when I asked for a definition of success, that ‘success is taking failure and turning it inside out.’ It is important that we rebound, learn from these events and try again — and that’s a great lesson for students,” said NASA Administrator Bolden.

“I am delighted that most of the students will get to see their investigations re-flown on the SpaceX mission. Perseverance is a critical skill in science and the space business.”

Virtually all of the experiments have been reconstituted to fly on the CRS-5 mission, also known as SpaceX-5.

“17 of the 18 student experiments lost on Orb-3 on October 28 are re-flying on SpaceX-5. These experiments comprise the reconstituted Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Yankee Clipper II payload for SSEP Mission 6 to ISS,” noted Goldstein.

“This shows the resilience of the federal-private partnership in commercial space, and of the commitment by our next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The wide range of experiments include microgravity investigations on how fluids act and form into crystals in the absence of gravity crystal growth, mosquito larvae development, milk expiration, baby bloodsuckers, development of Chrysanthemum and soybean seeds and Chia plants, effect of yeast cell division and implications for human cancer cells, and an examination of hydroponics.

Student experiments are aboard. Bearing the CRS-5 Dragon cargo craft within its nose, the Falcon 9 v1.1 stands patiently to execute the United States’ first mission of 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace
Student experiments are aboard. Bearing the CRS-5 Dragon cargo craft within its nose, the Falcon 9 v1.1 stands patiently to execute the United States’ first mission of 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

That dark day in October witnessed by the students, Goldstein, myself as a fellow scientist, and others is something we will never forget. We all chose to learn from the failure and move forward to greater accomplishments.

Don’t surrender to failure. And don’t give in to the ‘Do Nothing – Can’t Do’ crowd so prevalent today.

Remember what President Kennedy said during his address at Rice University on September 12, 1962:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NanoRacks Mix-Stix, which are used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/National Center for Earth and Space Science Education -Yankee Clipper.   Credit: Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NanoRacks Mix-Stix, which are used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/National Center for Earth and Space Science Education -Yankee Clipper. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Small Spacecraft Ejected from Space Station Airlock Will Provide Same-Day, On-Demand Parcel Delivery

Getting to the International Space Station is no easy task. Generally speaking, it involves loading up a space capsule with several tons of cargo and then expending millions of liters of fuel to get it into orbit. This process is time consuming and very expensive. And what if astronauts want to send some things back? Currently, their only option for return capability is provided by the same cargo capsules that are sent up to them.

Which means that the only way the ISS can send things back to Earth is for us to spend several million dollars sending a return vehicle up to them. Luckily, this is about to change, thanks to a project known as the Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV).

The TRV represents a collaborative effort between NASA and CASIS, the non-profit Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, which was recently endowed  with the responsibility of making sure that we make good use of the US laboratory aboard the ISS. Towards this end, they have contracted with Intuitive Machines – a Texas-based private space firm – to create a return vehicle that will enable the on-demand, rapid return of experiments from the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory.

“I believe with this new ‘on demand’ delivery capability for returning scientific samples to earth we will extend the viability of the ISS National Laboratory as a research platform for commercial benefit,” Steve Altemus, the president of Intuitive Machines, told Universe Today via email. “The principle investigators and scientists engaged in microgravity research in space can now begin to imagine new and different experiments and methodologies enabled by returning samples on a nearly daily basis and landing them precisely and gently on the Earth.”

The proposed TRV is a small, wingless capsule that can be loaded up with samples and ejected from the airlock in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), guaranteeing delivery back to Earth in under 24 hours. From the outside, the design looks a little like the Space Shuttle, or the Boeing X-37B space plane. Minus the stubby wings, of course.

Credit: NASA
The International Space Station. Credit: NASA

For the ISS crews, having these vehicles on hand will be a major boon for research, allowing for the delivery of critical or perishable samples to Earth laboratories in a timely manner. A number of these TRV’s will be shipped to the ISS – presumably as part of a normal cargo run using a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Once there, the process for using them to make deliveries will be quite straightforward. First, astronauts will load them with the scientific samples they intend to send home. Then, they will push them out the airlock and shunt them out into space using the Station’s Japanese-made robotic arm.

The TRV will then return to Earth much like any other spacecraft, descending through the atmosphere and eventually deploying a parachute to slow it down from supersonic speeds. Another larger parachute will deploy once it’s closer to the ground and bring it safely down to a landing site in Utah.

This return trip will take six hours, and since the ISS orbits the Earth about 15 times a day, the total delivery time should always be less than 24 hours. This will be especially useful considering that a number of scientific experiments take place on the International Space Station, mainly because the zero-gravity environment is more ideal for growing cell cultures in three dimensions.

Getting a TRV from the Space Station back to Earth. Credit: Intuitive Machines (some images courtesy of NASA)
Getting a TRV from the Space Station back to Earth. Credit: Intuitive Machines (some images courtesy of NASA)

“The International Space Station, with its unique microgravity laboratories and crew, enables research over a wide range of disciplines from physics through biology,” said Dr. David Wolf, a research scientist and former astronaut. “This small payload return capability will provide controlled conditions and flexible choices for timely sample analysis. The scientific team will be able to much more efficiently adjust experimental parameters in response to results, exploit unique results, and correct problems encountered.”

In short, if astronauts are busy testing techniques for bioprinting organs or developing new types of pharmaceuticals, they would certainly prefer to send the samples produced straight back to Earth rather than being forced to wait weeks for a cargo ship to arrive.

However, beyond facilitating the research efforts of astronauts, Intuitive Machines sees the TRV as a means of enabling new and exciting research aboard the ISS National Laboratory, as well as opening the door for commercial ventures in space.

Currently, Intuitive Machines plans to provide its TRV technology to a wide range of customers – including scientific, academic, commercial, and government interests. It is their hope that the new same-day capability will enable increased utilization of the ISS as a national laboratory, and improve the commercialization opportunities of experiments for terrestrial benefit.

The first batch of TRVs is scheduled to be sent up to the ISS in 2016. At first, they will be used strictly to return scientific samples – but apparently, a version that would be capable of returning live rodents is also in the works.

Further Reading: Intuitive Machines

NanoRacks and CASIS Put Research on the Universe’s Front Porch

[/caption]

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has opened part of the ISS exterior to research experiments via NanoRacks, a company providing plug-and-play platforms aboard the Station to third-party research organizations. For the first time, commercial experiments will have a dedicated external space aboard the ISS, putting them on “the front porch of the Universe.”

Since 2009 NanoRacks has been providing research institutions with shoebox-sized consoles that can house customized experiments for installation inside the U.S. National Laboratory on board the ISS.

On April 12 CASIS announced a $1.5 million deal with NanoRacks that will allow an external “NanoLabs” platform to be installed on the Japanese Kibo module. The structure will provide research spaces up to 8″ square that will be exposed to the environment of space. (Watch a video of the NanoLabs concept below.)

Through the CASIS investment, as many as four companies will be able to fly experiments for little or no cost.

A formal solicitation to research companies and private enterprises for payload proposals will be issued by CASIS in June. The NanoLabs platform is expected to be ready for flight by 2013 — a full year ahead of schedule.

“CASIS’ investment ensures that U.S. researchers will have access to the ISS External Platform far sooner than otherwise expected,” stated Jeffrey Manber, Managing Director of NanoRacks . “This program will enable faster innovation and spiral development for payloads — an opportunity that has not previously been made available to the commercial marketplace.”

Read the full press release here.

NanoRacks LLC was formed in 2009 to provide quality hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station. The company operates the first commercial laboratory in low-earth orbit. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize use of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. 

Image: S134-E-011413 — A backlit ISS photographed by the STS-134 crew of Endeavour on May 29, 2011, after undocking from the Station. (NASA)