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This page provides student flight experiment teams comprehensive information on the flight phase operations of the SSEP Mission 1 to the International Space Station. The page features details on preparing the mini-laboratories for flight, incorporation of the mini-labs into the SSEP payload, transportation of the payload to the International Space Station, science operations aboard the station, and the return of the mini-laboratories to the student teams for analysis after the flight. The page is divided into the following sections:
1. Critical Timeline for Flight Phase Operations
2. Preparing the Mini-Laboratory for Flight
3. Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form
4. Required Materials for Return Shipping
5. Shipping the Mini-Laboratory to NanoRacks
6. Transportation of the SSEP Payload to the International Space Station
7. Operations aboard the International Space Station
8. Conducting the Ground Truth Experiments
9. Receiving the Mini-Laboratory After the Flight
Important note: Given the complexity of transporting science payloads to the International Space Station and NASA’s discretionary ability to make schedule changes, all student teams are asked to remain flexible. This is especially important in light of changes in the launch and landing schedule that were caused by the pressurization test failure of Soyuz 30 (see this blog post.) This page will be updated by the SSEP operations team as new details become available on launch and landing dates. All flight experiment teams are advised to regularly monitor this page.
Nomenclature: During flight phase operations, milestones on the Critical Timeline are stated in terms of Handover + XYZ Days/Weeks, counted from the time the student teams hand over their flight-ready mini-laboratories to NanoRacks for incorporation into the SSEP payload, or as Launch Minus XYZ days/hours. After landing, the milestones are given in terms of Return to Earth + XYZ Hours/Days. Note that these times are stated relative to the scheduled launch and landing, and if there were changes in the schedule, this page will be modified to reflect the new launch or landing dates.
The Critical Timeline for flight phase operations of the SSEP Mission 1 to the International Space Station is provided below. All SSEP student experiment teams are required to abide by the following milestones.
April 6, 2012 (T= 0 Handover): Deadline for NanoRacks to receive all mini-labs from flight experiment teams
Once received, NanoRacks will log receipt of shipment, heat-seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-laboratory, and load the mini-lab into the SSEP Mission 1 Payload.
April 11, 2012 (Handover + 5 days): SSEP Mission 1 Payload turned over by NanoRacks to NASA for vehicle integration
Launch Minus 10 Days: SSEP Mission 1 Payload is loaded onto SpaceX Dragon
May 19, 2012 (Handover +6 Weeks): Launch of SSEP Mission 1 Payload on SpaceX Dragon
May 20-21, 2012 (Handover +6.5 Weeks): Payload transferred to ISS
July 1, 2012 (Handover + 12 Weeks): SSEP Mission 1 Payload returns to Earth on Soyuz 29
Return to Earth + 15–20 Hours: SSEP Mission 1 Payload received by NanoRacks in Houston; Mini-labs shipped to experiment teams
Mini-laboratories are shipped as soon as possible. Shipping will be done as per special handling requirements defined by the flight experiment teams, e.g., pack mini-lab with cold packs. Instead of having the mini-laboratory shipped, the team can send a representative to pick up the device in Houston in person.
Before the flight experiment teams send their mini-laboratories to NanoRacks for incorporation into the SSEP payload, there are several tasks that must be completed to prepare the experiment for flight.
Testing the Experiment
The student teams have until March 20 to continue testing their experiment to finalize the experiment design. While some experiment details had to be finalized in late December in time for the formal flight safety review, the teams can tweak other aspects of their experiment design until the mini-laboratories loaded with experiment samples must be shipped to NanoRacks. The parts of experiment design that cannot be changed any more are:
- No new samples can be introduced to the experiment.
- The concentrations or amounts of any samples can not be increased.
Experiment details that can still be changed include:
- The concentrations and amounts of the samples can be reduced, even all the way to zero, which means that the sample is removed from the experiment.
- Special handling requirements.
- Timeline for the experiment aboard the International Space Station.
If the teams want to consider revising their current experiment timeline, they are advised to read through the section “Finalizing Timeline for Experiments Aboard the International Space Station” of the FAQ for SSEP Mission 1 to the ISS. Any changes the student teams want to make to the experiments will need to be requested as modifications to the Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 below.)
Results of Flight Safety Review
In late December, the experiment details for every student experiment selected for flight were submitted to NanoRacks for forwarding to NASA Toxicology for a formal flight safety review. We expect to receive the results of the review in late February. The results of the review will be posted on this Web page. We expect the results to be a simple “go-ahead” for all experiments (as has been the case for SSEP payloads in the past), but if any concerns about any experiment were to be raised by NASA Toxicology, we’ll contact the student teams in question directly. UPDATE: On March 9, 2012, NanoRacks informed the SSEP team that NASA Toxicology had completed the formal flight safety review for SSEP Mission 1 payload, and there were no safety concerns with the experiments. The SSEP Mission 1 experiments are now approved for flight!
Choosing the Mini-Laboratory to Be Used for Flight
At the beginning of this flight opportunity, a package of five Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) kits were sent to the Community Leader of each Mission 1 SSEP community. The kits include materials to make five complete FME mini-laboratories. One of these kits is to be used to assemble the mini-laboratory that the team will load with experiment samples and ship to NanoRacks for flight, while the others can be used to conduct ground truth experiments to help with the analysis of the experiment results. If the flight experiment teams do not have an FME kit designated for flight already, they are advised to contact their Community Leader as soon as possible to make sure they’ll have sufficient time to assemble the mini-laboratory to be used for flight and practice loading the samples into the device.
Loading Experiment Samples into the Mini-Laboratory
Each flight experiment team will load their samples into the mini-laboratory to be used for the experiment and ship the flight-ready device to NanoRacks for incorporation in the SSEP payload. That is, the students will be loading the samples into the actual flight hardware that will fly aboard the International Space Station themselves, and no-one else will tamper with the samples after the students have sealed the mini-laboratory. To help the teams with the loading process, NanoRacks has created an instructional video and a step-by-step guide that are available in the SSEP Documents Library. The teams are urged to study these documents carefully and practice loading samples (or dummy versions of samples) into the device to make sure everything will go smoothly when they prepare the actual flight-ready mini-laboratory. The step-by-step guide for loading the experiment samples is a PDF file called “NanoRacks MixStik Kit Instructions“, and the video is an mp4 file called “MixStik Assembly Video“. The teams can get the user name and password required to access these files from their SSEP Community Leader. Important notes:
- The teams must ship a complete, flight-ready mini-laboratory. NanoRacks will not add any samples inside the mini-laboratory in Houston. Once NanoRacks receives the experiment device, they will drill a pin through the teflon end cap to seal the FME completely for flight, heat-seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around the mini-lab, and incorporate it into the SSEP Mission 1 payload. Shipping of samples that are not inside the flight-ready mini-laboratory may lead to the loss of your experiment slot on this flight.
- It is not necessary to label the mini-laboratory to indicate where the different glass ampoules are, even if the team is using a Type 3 mini-laboratory. As explained in the step-by-step loading guide, the order in which the teams load the ampoules into the mini-laboratory will let NanoRacks know which ampoule is Ampoule A and which is Ampoule B. Once the mini-laboratory is sealed within the extra containment bags, the outside bag is marked clearly to indicate which end of the mini-laboratory contains which ampoule. Any markings on the outer tube will be ignored during payload processing, so the student team must make sure to load the ampoules into the mini-laboratory in the correct order. This order is also specified in the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 below.) Note that if a team wants to mark the outside of the mini-laboratory tube for their own use (for example to help with the analysis of the experiment after the device has returned to Earth), that is perfectly fine.
Requirement for All Samples to Be Used: Precisely as Specified to NASA Toxicology
An absolute requirement for the samples the student teams will load into their flight-ready mini-laboratory is that they must be the precise fluids and solids that have been specified to NASA Toxicology for the experiment. However, the teams have the ability to reduce concentrations until March 20. This also includes the possibility of removing a sample by reducing the concentration to zero. Given that these modifications are allowable, yet such modifications must still be formally approved in advance of launch, the approval process is to be conducted through the use of the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 below.) This means that the samples the student teams will load into the mini-laboratory must be those that are approved as part of the process of submitting the final Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form, and the samples must be at the approved concentrations. Sending a mini-laboratory to NanoRacks that contains samples other than those approved for flight will lead to the loss of your experiment slot on this flight.
Recording the Exact Quantities Loaded into the Mini-Laboratory
While the student teams are loading their experiment samples into the mini-laboratory that will fly to the International Space Station, they are urged to measure and record the exact quantities of all samples loaded into the device. While the teams likely will be able to use exactly the amounts of all solids and samples declared in their Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form, it is always possible that during the actual loading, the exact quantities that can fit inside the mini-laboratory may vary slightly. Recording the exact quantities placed inside the device is especially important for the ground truth experiments (see section Section 8 below), since the team will likely want to conduct the ground truth experiment using exactly the same quantities of samples as the flight experiment.
Each student flight experiment team must verify their experiment details using a Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form before shipping their flight-ready mini-laboratory to NanoRacks for incorporation into the SSEP payload. The purpose of the document is to ensure that the student team and NCESSE are in full agreement on the flight experiment and its integration into the SSEP payload. The preliminary version of this document was created before the experiment details were submitted to the flight safety review in December. If a team wants to change any details of the experiment before shipping their flight-ready mini-laboratory for launch, they must request the modifications as part of the process to finalize the form.
Finalizing the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form
In February, NCESSE will send the current version of the experiment details document to the student teams with space provided for requests for any final (allowed) modifications to the experiment design. The timeline for confirming the experiment details is:
The Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form will be sent to Teacher Facilitator of the student teams by: February 10, 2012
The form must be signed by the Teacher Facilitator and emailed to Harri Vanhala (email@example.com) by: 12:00 noon EST, March 20, 2012.
NCESSE will respond with a co-signed form if no modifications were requested, or approval or denial of modifications requested for, e.g., sample concentrations, by: March 28, 2012.
The student teams must load their experiment samples as specified in the final Experiment Details Confirmation Form into the mini-laboratory and ship the flight-ready device to NanoRacks so that it will arrive in Houston no later than April 6, 2012. The completed form will also include the final special handling requirements, the timeline of the experiment aboard the ISS, and requests for dropping off the mini-laboratory in person before the flight and/or picking it up in person after the flight.
Before the student teams ship their flight-ready mini-laboratories to NanoRacks, they need to formulate their plan for the return of the mini-laboratory back to the team after the flight.
FedEx Airbill for Return Shipping
If a flight experiment team wants the mini-laboratory shipped back to them after the flight, they must include in their original shipment of the flight-ready mini-laboratory to NanoRacks a completed FedEx airbill for return shipping. The team may wait until closer to the landing of Soyuz 29 to send in their airbill, but the return airbill must reach NanoRacks before the SSEP payload is returned to Earth, so sending it at the time of the original shipment for flight is easiest for everyone. The teams are advised to make sure to provide all required information, such as:
- The address to which the mini-laboratory is to be sent after the flight. Note that the team may want to use an address where the package can be delivered on Saturday, if desired. Also, because the landing of Soyuz 29 is currently scheduled for July 1, the team may want to make sure deliveries can be made to this address even if their school may have closed for summer.
- Sender’s address: NanoRacks address in Houston: Will be provided to Teacher Facilitators via email.
- Choice of delivery speed (likely overnight).
- Choice of Saturday delivery, if appropriate, given the delivery speed chosen. Note that there is usually an extra charge for Saturday delivery.
- The team’s FedEx account number or credit card number written on the airbill.
- Request for signature upon delivery to make sure the package is not left unattended on a doorstep. This is especially important if the package is delivered to a residential address.
Important note: The mini-laboratories cannot be sent back to the team after the flight without a fully completed airbill, so the student team must make sure they have sent the airbill to NanoRacks before the SSEP payload returns to Earth. It is easiest to do this by including the return airbill in their original shipment (unless the team is picking up the mini-laboratory in person after the flight.)
Supplies for Special Handling During Return Shipping
If a student team is requesting any special handling of their samples during return shipping (such as shipping the samples with cold packs), the necessary materials must be sent to NanoRacks before the SSEP payload returns to Earth. It is easiest to do this by including the supplies with the original shipment of the flight-ready mini-laboratory. For example, if the team wants to use a special shipping container for the return shipment and include cold packs in the package, the team must send the container and the cold packs so they are ready to be used as soon as NanoRacks receives the SSEP payload. If the necessary supplies are not available when NanoRacks is ready to ship the FME back to the team, the return shipment will be made without the supplies. If the original shipment is sent refrigerated with cold packs, the same cold packs can be used for the return shipment; there is no need to send a second set, as long as the cold packs can be reused.
All student teams must send their flight-ready mini-laboratory to NanoRacks so that it will arrive no sooner than March 30, 2012, and no later than April 6, 2012.
Shipping Container and Address
NanoRacks will provide to each flight experiment team a shipping container to be used for shipping the flight-ready mini-laboratory to Houston. The container has been designed to fit the mini-laboratory snugly inside it to prevent unnecessary jostling of the device during shipping. All student teams must use this container to send the mini-laboratory to NanoRacks. The teams must provide the address to which the shipping container is to be sent to Harri Vanhala (firstname.lastname@example.org) by February 10, 2012. The containers are expected to reach the teams by February 24, 2012. The container consists of a PVC tube, inside which the team can place their mini-laboratory, and two foam caps to be placed at the end of the tube to secure the mini-lab in place. To place the flight-ready FME inside the shipping container, follow these steps:
- Once you have loaded your samples into the FME, place the white teflon end cap securely into the open end of the FME to seal the samples inside.
- Place a piece of tape over the end cap to help keep it in place during shipping. (NanoRacks will insert a pin through the end cap when they’ll put the payload together, so this piece of tape is just to make sure the end cap doesn’t pop off during shipping to Houston.)
- Place the sealed FME inside the plastic bag you received as part of the shipping container package.
- Close the bag and roll it tightly around the FME.
- Insert the FME inside the PVC tube shipping container and place the foam end caps at the ends to hold the FME securely inside.
- Place a piece of tape on the ends of the PVC tube to hold the foam caps in place during shipping.
The team can then place the container in a shipping box addressed to NanoRacks, using bubblewrap and/or packing peanuts, as appropriate, to prevent the mini-laboratory container from being jostled about inside the shipping box. Any additional supplies (such as cold packs) the team may want to use or send for return shipment can be placed in the same shipping box. Remember to label all extra supplies for current use or for return shipping. The address to which the mini-laboratories are to be shipped in Houston will be provided to the Teacher Facilitators about a week before the flight-ready mini-laboratory delivery deadline. Be sure to use a shipping service that allows the package to be tracked and request signature for delivery, so that there is a record of the route of the package and delivery. Remember that if your package is not delivered by the deadline for FME receipt (for whatever reason), it may lead to the loss of your experiment slot on this flight opportunity.
Dropping Off the Mini-Laboratory in Person
Instead of shipping the mini-laboratory using a courier service such as FedEx, the student experiment teams also have an option of dropping off their mini-lab in person in Houston. This is considered a special handling requirement and must be requested in advance using the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 above.) More details on where and when to drop off the experiment device will be provided to those teams who have requested this option after the form has been completed and approved.
Incorporating the Mini-Laboratory into the SSEP Payload
Once NanoRacks receives each mini-laboratory, they will log receipt of the shipment and store the mini-lab in the SSEP payload processing facility until it is incorporated into the payload. During this time, there are two choices for the temperature in which the mini-laboratory is stored: storage at room temperature, and storage in a standard refrigerator temperature of 2-4°C (about 36-39°F). If the team wants their mini-lab refrigerated, this must be brought to the attention of NanoRacks through the Special Handling section of the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 above). The SSEP payload processing facility will have copies of these forms, and, on arrival, each shipment will be assessed as to whether there are special handling needs that need to be implemented. Any instructions written on or inside the shipping package that are not included in the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form will be ignored. During payload processing, NanoRacks will drill a pin through the teflon end cap to seal the FME completely for flight, heat-seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-laboratory (in a way that will not raise the temperature inside it), and load it into the SSEP payload. NanoRacks will turn over the payload to NASA for transportation to the launch site and vehicle integration by April 11, 2012.
Because of the change in the launch details of the SSEP payload to ISS, NanoRacks is able to refrigerate the experiments until launch. After the individual mini-laboratories are incorporated into the SSEP payload, the entire payload will be placed into a cold bag to go aboard the launch vehicle for transportation to the International Space Station. The cold bag will include cold bricks that will hold the temperature at 4°C (39°F) for up to two weeks, which means that the payload is expected to be under refrigeration until it reaches the International Space Station.
The SSEP payload is loaded onto SpaceX Dragon within ten days of planned launch. The launch has been delayed a couple of times from its original launch date in late April; the current target date for launch is May 19, 2012.
The SSEP payload is expected to be delivered to the International Space Station in early May. It can take up to three days for the crew to transfer the payload to the station. The payload will return to Earth on Soyuz 29, which is scheduled to undock from the station on July 1. The teams are advised to check back for updates on the expected times for the departure of the SSEP payload from the ISS.
Experiment Timeline on the Station
The timeline for handling each team’s mini-laboratory is defined in the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 above). NanoRacks will incorporate the requests for manipulating each mini-laboratory into a master schedule to be followed by astronauts in orbit. Given the time it will take to transfer the payload from and to the transport vehicles, the student teams can ask for their experiments to be handled on specific weekdays in April and May. In addition, the teams can ask for their experiments to be handled as early as possible after arrival at the station or as late as possible before the payload is transferred to the return vehicle. For more information about the way the student teams can specify handling of their experiment aboard the station, see the section “Finalizing Timeline for Experiments Aboard the International Space Station” of the FAQ for SSEP Mission 1 to the ISS. Note: the timeline for each experiment will be reassessed once the exact dates for the arrival to and the departure from the ISS, as well as the overall ISS crew schedule for the time the payload will spend on the station, are known. Therefore, the timelines for all experiments remain tentative until they are incorporated into the ISS work schedule.
Updates to Student Teams on the Progress of Their Experiment
Astronauts will work with the SSEP payload at times that fit best in their overall work schedule each day. This means that the payload may be handled at a different time of the day on different days, and while the SSEP program team may know the astronauts’ planned work schedule a few days in advance, we’ll not know exactly when the payload is handled until the task is complete. After the astronauts have completed handling of the SSEP payload, NanoRacks will forward a report on the activity to the SSEP program team, which will then post the details, including the time at which the payload was handled, on the Experiment Log for the SSEP Mission 1 to the ISS to make the information available to all student teams as quickly as possible. The report will be posted as soon as it is received, but it may take up to 24 hours for the information from the International Space Station to make its way to the log. That means, for example, that the details of an activity conducted by the astronauts on June 12 will be made available to the student teams on the Experiment Log by the afternoon of June 13.
Ground truth experiments – that is, control versions of the experiment conducted on Earth at the same time as the microgravity experiment is being conducted in orbit – are an essential part of analyzing the results of the flight experiment. Given that it may take up to a day to receive a report on exactly when specific activities were conducted with the SSEP payload aboard the ISS, the student teams may want to shift activities with their ground truth experiments by at least a day. That will allow teams to ensure that activities they carry out on their ground truth experiments accurately reflect what was done with their experiment aboard the station. For example, if the team’s experiment was scheduled to be activated on June 12, 2012, and deactivated on June 14, 2012, aboard the ISS, the team may want to plan for their ground truth experiment to be activated on June 13, 2012, and deactivated on June 15, 2012, so that they can first confirm when activation and deactivation occurred aboard the Station. This is especially important for experiments that are sensitive to the exact timing of the experiment. For example, if an experiment is likely to produce different results depending on whether it is active for 40 or 45 hours, the teams will want to match the exact timing of the experiment aboard the station with their ground truth experiment.
The SSEP payload is scheduled to return to Earth aboard Soyuz 29 on July 1. The payload is flown from the landing site to Houston immediately after landing, and NanoRacks is expected to receive the payload from NASA 15-20 hours after landing. NanoRacks will process the payload and turn over the mini-laboratories to the student teams as quickly as possible. The student teams can pick up the mini-laboratories in person in Houston, or NanoRacks can ship the devices back to the student teams.
Shipping Mini-Laboratories Back to Student Teams
The student experiment teams that want their mini-laboratories shipped back to them must send a return FedEx airbill with the shipment of their original flight-ready mini-lab to NanoRacks (see Section 4) by the time the return ferry vehicle lands. NanoRacks will use the airbills and any special handling materials provided by the teams to ship the mini-laboratories as soon as possible. Shipping will be done as per special handling requirements defined by flight experiment team in the Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 above.) Remember that if a team is requesting any special handling of their samples during return shipping (such as shipping the samples with cold packs), the necessary materials must be sent to NanoRacks before the SSEP payload returns to Earth. It is easiest to do this by including the supplies with the original shipment of the flight-ready mini-laboratory. If the necessary supplies are not available when NanoRacks is ready to ship the FME back to the team, the return shipment will be made without the supplies.
Picking up the Mini-Laboratory in Person
Instead of having the mini-laboratory returned using a courier service such as FedEx, the student experiment teams have the option of picking up their mini-lab in person in Houston. This is considered a special handling requirement and must be requested in advance using the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form (see Section 3 above.) The specifics of where and when to pick up the mini-lab in person will be provided to those teams that have requested this option, once the return date and time for the SSEP payload to Houston has been confirmed.
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.