Long after the thrill of the Antares Rocket launch and the Cygnus Spacecraft has completed docking to the International Space Station, the plethora of slated research will commence.
The three-month stint attached to the unity module will deliver 8,200 pounds of science and research crew supplies as well as vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory. This will also be the fifth mission under Northrop Grumman’s two-year Commercial Resupply contract with NASA.
“At NASA, we’re dedicated to continuous improvement in getting a return on our investment for all humanity,” said David Brady, associate program scientist for the ISS. “We do this by creating tangible returns by advancing scientific and technical knowledge, fostering economic opportunity, and advancing our capabilities to extend humankind into the cosmos.”
Research on, yes, slime molds
Among the research conducted will be Slime mold studies. Even without a brain, the single-celled material “can still move, feed, organize itself, and even transmit knowledge to other slime molds,” according the official NASA research overview.
With the help of Thomas Pesquet, a European Space Agency astronaut, experiments will show the effect of microgravity on the substance. Through the use of time lapse video from space, students 10 to 18 years old can compare the speed, shape, and growth of the slime molds in space and on the ground.
“The main mission is to revive the slime mold since it gets to the ISS in a dormant state,” said Dr. Audrey Dussutour, director of research at the French National Center for Scientific Research. “We are recording the experiment with an automatic camera connected inside the box where the samples are kept. At the end of the seven days, the slime molds will return to their dormant stage.”
While there is no direct space application, the research will be used as an educational investigation to promote science in schools.
3D-printed space material?
If one has ever wondered if space material like loose rocks or soil could ever be material for a 3D-printed object, NASA has too.
“The Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) study demonstrates 3D printing on the space station using a material simulating regolith, or loose rock and soil found on the surfaces of planetary bodies such as the moon,” states the NASA mission overview.
The application of the study examines the feasibility of using regolith as the raw material and 3D printing as a solution for on-demand construction of habitats and other structures on future space missions.
Back on Earth, successful results could indicate the development of infrastructure to improve quality of life in remote and undeveloped areas and on-site emergency construction during natural disaster response.
A chance to slow down muscle loss
A medical study slated for this mission is the cardinal muscle test on whether microgravity can be used as a research tool for understanding and preventing sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is the diminishing of muscle mass with age. According to mission data, between the ages of 20 and 80 years old, 30 percent of muscle mass is lost.
Muscle cells are cultured on the artificial scaffold while on the ISS, with researchers evaluating the resulting engineered muscle myotubes, and the components secreted by them, using genomics and proteomics and comparing results to terrestrial controls and muscle cells from healthy and sarcopenic patients.
“Due to the slow progression of the disease, studies on Earth can take a long time and be very expensive,” said Dr. Ngan Huang, principal investigator of the study from Palo Alto Veterans Institute for Research. “Microgravity has been shown to accelerate many disease processes, so we wondered if the same would be the case with this. If this hypothesis is true, then we could use microgravity as a platform for drug screenings.”
For astronauts, that could mean stemming the loss of muscle during longer missions. Back on the ground, such a model could enable study of muscle deterioration and serve as a platform for testing potential treatments.
The removal of carbon dioxide from a spacecraft is also a priority for long-term missions, so NASA will be testing the Four Bed CO2 Scrubber.
This model is based on the current ISS Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, which includes design improvements learned over 20 years of missions.
The goals of the scrubber investigation are to show the improved reliability and performance of the improved technology compared to other methods of the carbon dioxide removal.
“This is really the next generation design iteration of the current onboard CO2 scrubber that has been in use for almost 20 years now,” said Michael Salopek, the co-principal investigator for the study from the NASA Johnson Space Center. “This improves many of the past failures of the system and improve the future removal of the CO2 as well. These things are important to building future exploration life support systems”
The technology also has applications on Earth with use at industrial locations.
A test-bed for re-entry
For future missions, “the Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE) is designed to be an adaptable test-bed for scientific experimentation for re-entry conditions, providing an inexpensive means of obtaining such data,” states the mission overview.
The overall objective of KREPE is to launch three capsules, instrumented with a variety of sensors for data collection, from the ISS. Among them are thermocouples placed at varying depths within the heat shield. The data obtained during entry is packaged and transmitted to the ground through the Iridium satellite network.
Finally, the Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment seeks to validate an ISS model for flow boiling critical heat variations and develop an integrated two-phase flow boiling and condensation facility.
How to watch
Live coverage of the launch will begin at 5:30 p.m. EDT on NASA TV. The launch may be visible, weather permitting, to residents throughout the mid-Atlantic region and possibly the East Coast of the United States.
Viewing locations on Chincoteague Island include Robert Reed Park on Main Street or Beach Road spanning the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. The Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Atlantic beaches also provide good viewing locations. The beach at the Assateague Island National Seashore/Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge will not be open during the launch.