For SSEP on ISS – Dramatically More Experiment Capability Using the New Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-Lab Over the MDA Mini-Lab Used for SSEP On Shuttle Missions

Communities interested in exploring participation in SSEP Mission 1 to ISS will be excited to learn that the Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) mini-lab being used for SSEP on ISS has dramatically more capability than the Materials Dispersion Apparatus (MDA) used for SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135.

Based on SSEP operations on STS-134 and STS-135, NCESSE assessed what enhancements in mini-lab operation were required to provide student teams vastly more freedom and flexibility in experiment design. NanoRacks worked exceedingly hard to deliver on our request with the Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME). NCESSE is proud to be working with a partner that finds exceptionally creative ways to engineer solutions that address need.

This new mini-lab, introduced at the start of SSEP Phase 2 operations on ISS, reflects NCESSE’s continuing effort to: 1) expand capabilities for REAL student research in orbit, and 2) broaden the range of experiences in experiment design.

A commitment to ongoing improvement is the only way that SSEP can provide the very best research experiences for thousands of student researchers. Remember, this STEM education program is about serving our next generation of explorers to the best of our ability. And in education, that’s a required philosophy if you want to move mountains.

Without further ado, the new FME mini-lab has the following characteristics—

1. Can Mix Up to 3 Fluids/Solids
Recall that the MDA available for SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135 only provided for one or two fluids/solids to be mixed (Type 1 or Type 2 MDA).

The FME can contain one, two, or three separate volumes of fluids and/or solids (a Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3 FME). You can equivalently think of the FME as one, two, or three small test tubes that can be mixed in orbit. It is up to you to decide if you want a Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3 – in fact YOU assemble the FME you want (see #7 Below)!

2. Each FME Operates Independently – YOU Define When Your Experiment Samples Are Mixed
Recall that for the MDA, mixing of all experiments happened together via a “slide protocol”. You had no control over when mixing was to take place. It was predefined, and you needed to design your experiment around this constraint.

For the FME, no longer are all experiments mixed at the same time. Each FME is self-contained, allowing each student flight experiment team to fully define when mixing is to take place for their experiment, which can require up to two mixings by an ISS crew member in the case of a Type 3 FME.

3. No More Master List of Experiment Samples!
For the MDA, all experiment teams were required to only use fluids and solids on the Master List of Experiment Samples. While the list was extensive, it still constrained experiment design.

The FME has triple containment. You are therefore free to use virtually any fluids and solids you want! The only samples not allowed are: radioactive fluids or solids, perfumes, hydrofluoric acid, magnets, cadmium, and beryllium. So go play!

4. FULL Use of Biological Inhibitors and Fixatives to Terminate an Experiment
Since you can use any fluids and solids you want, and you are free to define a mix at the end of your experiment, you can introduce a biological inhibitor or fixative to terminate a biological experiment before it is reintroduced to a gravity environment on return to Earth.

5. The Volumes in the FME for Fluids and/or Solids Are Larger!
The MDA volumes were exceedingly small at 0.125 ml. Depending on the Type FME you want to use, the volumes are at least 7 times larger (0.92 ml), and up to 50 times larger (6.28 ml) than those in the MDA.

6. You Can Put Air in Volumes Containing Fluids
Recall than any volume in the MDA containing fluids needed to be 100% filled with that fluid. In the FME, a volume containing a fluid does not need to be completely filled. Air voids are fine.

7. Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) Kits – You Get the REAL Flight Hardware
As part of the baseline SSEP program, your community will get five FME Kits, each providing you the ability to assemble a Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3 FME. Each Kit is the REAL flight hardware. One of the Kits that you build, fill and seal, will be the FME you ship to Houston for ferry flight via Soyuz 30 to ISS!

This means that student teams will now have DIRECT experience with the flight hardware. (How cool is that?)

8. No More 3rd Party Loading and Harvesting of Your Experiment
For the MDA, student teams needed to ship their fluids and solids to ITA at Kennedy Space Center for loading into the MDA, and ITA harvested the samples from the MDA and shipped back the samples to the teams.

For the FME, YOUR team loads the flight MDA, seals it and ships it to Houston, and on return to Earth, YOUR team harvests the samples. This ensures that YOU oversee all handling of your experiment samples, and this approach provides student teams the added experience of loading and harvesting samples into and from the actual flight hardware.

9. You Get to Truly Play with the Actual Flight Hardware
Because you get 5 FME Kits, each identical, and each the actual flight hardware, you can play with a Kit to familiarize yourself with the operation of the flight hardware, and not worry that you might “mess it up” since you’ve got another kit you’ll use for assembly of the FME you are sending to ISS. (Think about that—you are assembling the mini-lab YOU are sending to the International Space Station.)

10. You Conduct Your Ground Truth Experiment in the Actual Flight Hardware
For the MDA, student teams only had analogs to the flight hardware in which they could conduct their ground truth experiments, either the lucite block, or a leased MDA Demo Unit. That meant that the ground truth experiment was NOT identical to what was happening in the MDA on orbit.

For the FME, because you get 5 Kits, you have the ability to do multiple ground truth experiments in the actual flight hardware, and do these experiments at the same time as the flight experiment – including the same time for loading and sealing, and the same time for harvesting. This is an exceptional ground truth experiment capability.

11. You Can Get Additional FMEs
You can get additional FME’s as a package of 5 Kits per package.

Sound pretty cool? You can learn all about the operation of the Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) at the new SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Mini-Lab Operation page.
And if your community is interested in participating in SSEP Mission 1 to ISS, RIGHT NOW is the time to Contact Us.

Jump to: SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Mini-Lab Operation page

The SSEP on-orbit research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

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The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.