On August 29th, at 3:14 AM Est SpaceX is set to launch another Dragon capsule full of equipment, supplies, and scientific research to the International Space Station. In total this will make their twenty-third resupply under contract for NASA since 2016. Lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this will mark the third flight for the company under NASA’s CRS Phase 2 contract.
A Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, which is the SpaceX workhorse will be flying the mission and consists of a reusable first stage, an interstage and a second stage. In height it stands seventy meters tall and 3.7 meters in diameter. Made of an aluminum-lithium alloy the total dry mass of the Falcon 9 is 549,054kg or 1,207,920lbs with a payload lift capacity to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) of 22,800kg or 50,265lbs. The total mass of this mission equates to 4,800lbs of total cargo. Amongst that cargo is scientific research and technology demonstrations which will be used and studied onboard the ISS (International Space Station) by the astronauts. Included is an investigation into protecting bone health with botanical byproducts, testing a way to monitor crew eye health, demonstrating improved dexterity of robots, exposing construction materials to the harsh environment of space and mitigating the stress in plants.
READI FP is the experiment which will evaluate the effects of microgravity and space radiation on the growth of bone tissue and whether bioactive metabolites, such as antioxidants formed when food is broken down might protect bones during long duration spaceflights. These metabolites being tested come from vegetal extracts generated as waste in wine production. Of course protecting the health of crew members from the effects of microgravity is crucial for the success of future long duration mission. Hoping to improve our understanding of the physical changes that cause bone loss and identify potential countermeasures is the primary focus of this experiment and insight could also contribute to prevention and treatment of bone loss on Earth, particularly in post menopausal women.
The next experiment we will discuss is the Retinal Diagnostics test which is a light based devices that can capture images of the retinas of astronauts in order to document progression of vision problems known as SANS (space associated neuro ocular syndrome). This devices uses a commercially available lens which is approved for routine clinical testing and is lightweight, mobile, and noninvasive. The investigation is sponsored by the ESA (European Space Agency) with the German Aerospace Center Institute of Space Medicine and European Astronaut Centre. SANS is currently present in over two thirds of astronauts and thought to be associated with long duration exposure to microgravity, according to the principal investigator Juergen Drescher of DLR. Multi-year missions to Mars may worsen the symptoms in astronauts which is normally mitigated through glasses, and the researchers are hoping to develop a mobile device for retinal imaging diagnostics that is capable of working in remote and extreme environments in space and on Earth as well.
NASA is also doing research on robotic helpers to the astronauts onboard the ISS. Nanoracks is sending up their GITAI Robotic Arm which will demonstrate the versatility and dexterity in microgravity of a robot designed by GITAI Japan Inc. If results are favorable this could lead to the development and support of robotic labor of crew activities and tasks, as well as servicing, assembling, and manufacturing tasks while in orbit. Overall robotic support could lower costs and improve crew safety by having robots take on tasks which may cause potential harm to astronauts in space, and citizens on Earth as well, including disaster relief, deep sea excavation, and servicing nuclear power plants. These experiments will be conducted under the pressurized environment inside the bishop airlock, the stations first commercial airlock.
There is also the MISSE-15 NASA which is one of a series of MISSE investigations testing how the environment of space affects the performance and durability of specific materials and components. Hoping to provide insights that support development of better materials for future spacecrafts, suits and planetary structures, researchers are hoping to also significantly speed up the development of potential materials. Like most of the experiments tested in space this too may have functions back on Earth as improved radiation protection, better solar cells, and more durable concrete are all things needed here on our home planet. Some of the materials being tested during the mission include concrete, spacecraft materials, fiberglass composites, thin film, solar cells, radiation protection materials, micro optical chips, 3D printed polymers, and more.
Most plants grown under microgravity conditions will typically display evidence of stress. APEX-08 is an experiment to examine the role of compounds known and polyamines in the response of thale cress to microgravity stress. Expressions of the genes involved in polyamine metabolism remain the same in space as on the ground, these plants do not appear to use the polyamines to respond to stress in microgravity, so APEX-08 is an attempt to engineer a way for them to do so.
Our last experiment we will talk about is the Girl Scouts are sending an experiment up. The Faraday Research Facility is a multipurpose research facility that uses the space station’s EXPRESS racks. This flight the facility will host a Houston Methodist Research Institute experiment and two STEM collaborations, which includes “Making Space for Girls” with the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council.