SSEP Mission 11 to ISS: Critical Timeline

Information added or updated since this page went live on March 18, 2016, is in GREEN TEXT below.
Information still to be determined (if any) is in RED TEXT below.
Dates and times that are subject to change at NASA’s discretion are in PURPLE TEXT below.

Last update of this page: March 26, 2016, 9:00 am ET


Below is a timeline of milestones for SSEP Mission 11 to the International Space Station (ISS). It covers activities associated with how communities join the program, the experiment design competition, selection of flight experiments, launch, operations aboard ISS, and mini-laboratory return to Earth. The timeline is broken into 2 phases: 1) the Experiments Design Phase which concludes with the selection of the flight experiment for each participating community, and 2) the Flight Operations Phase, which concludes with the flown experiments returned to the communities for student team harvesting and analysis.

A Note about the ferry flights to and from the ISS. The current plan for transporting the SSEP Mission 11 America experiments payload to ISS is a launch on a U.S. ferry vehicle from the east coast in Spring 2017, and return to Earth using a U.S. vehicle. Based on prior SSEP Missions, student team experiments will be in orbit for anywhere from 4 to 14 weeks, with 4-6 weeks as the preferred duration. There are only a limited number of ferry flights to and from ISS. The duration in orbit is therefore determined once ferry flights are assigned for the America payload by NASA. This page therefore includes only general target dates for milestones associated with the Flight Operations Phase in Spring 2017.

Phase 1:
Experiments Design Phase  The Timeline through selection of flight experiments—

March 30, 2016: SSEP National Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for SSEP Mission 11 to the International Space Station
Announcement across U.S. via the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE): opportunity open to School Districts (pre-college grades 5-12); 2-Year Community Colleges; 4-Year Colleges and Universities with emphasis on Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs); and informal education and out–of-school organizations.

Announcement to Canada, Japan, and member states of the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA) via NCESSE’s new international arm, the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

March 30 – August 29, 2016 (22 weeks): Communities Come Aboard
Education stakeholders at the community level assess the opportunity, and if interested, rapidly assess funding prospects with local foundations, businesses, and philanthropic organizations, and secure pledges of funding (Letters of Commitment of Funding).

WE CAN HELP IDENTIFY FUNDING: Regarding identifying and securing funding, NCESSE can greatly assist. NCESSE found full or partial funding for 151 of the 181 SSEP community programs associated with the twelve flight opportunities to date—SSEP on the final two Space Shuttle flights, and SSEP Missions 1 through 10 to ISS. We are committed to doing the same for SSEP Mission 11 to ISS.

August 29, 2016: Final Date for Receipt of Formal Letters of Commitment of Funding
Deadline for your community to submit to NCESSE via email a formal Letter of Commitment of Funding (on letterhead of the funding organization), which states that funding is available and will be allocated to SSEP. If NCESSE is leading the fundraising, we will secure these letters.

August 30, 2016: Final Date for Go-No-Go Decision
Based on the received Letters of Commitment, NCESSE announces if the minimum of 10 funded mini-laboratories required to fly the SSEP Mission 11 Payload to ISS has been achieved, hence a minimum of 10 participating communities. Note that the minimum requirement will likely be met earlier than August 30. All funded communities will be notified as soon as the minimum requirement is met so that they can gear up for program operations as early as possible in advance of program start. Note: NCESSE has never missed the minimum target for a SSEP flight opportunity.

September 6, 2016: SSEP begins in all participating communities

TO GET STARTED WITH SSEP IN YOUR COMMUNITY: read the Teacher and Student Resources page.

September 14, 2016: NCESSE ships 5 Fluids Mixing Enclosure Mini-lab Kits to Each Participating Community

September 30, 2016: Deadline for Community’s One- or Two-Patch Plan to be Received by NCESSE via Email, by 5:00 PM Eastern Time (USA), (see Mission Patch page)

CRITICAL NOTE: a Plan submitted after this deadline will not be accepted, and the community will forfeit their opportunity to fly a Mission Patch(es)

CRITICAL NOTE: the Plan must be emailed to John Hamel, NCESSE’s Assistant Flight Operations Manager for SSEP, at:

CRITICAL NOTE: once received, John will determine if each Plan includes all needed information, and is consistent with all requirements necessary for a community to fly a Mission Patch(es). If a Plan is not acceptable, the submitting community will be notified as soon as possible, and have until 5:00 PM ET on October 7, 2016, to submit an approvable Plan.

October 7, 2016: Deadline for Community’s One- or Two-Patch Plan to be Approved by NCESSE, by 5:00 PM Eastern Time (USA), (see Mission Patch page)

CRITICAL NOTE: Plans that are still deemed incomplete by this deadline will be rejected, and the community will forfeit their opportunity to fly a Mission Patch(es)

October 26, 2016: Deadline for Signed Contract and First of Two Installments
Final date for your community and SSEP to have a signed contract in place; by this date, SSEP must have received the signed contract, and a check to Tides Center (NCESSE’s parent non-profit) for 50% of the total cost. 

September 6 – November 4, 2016: 9 weeks of Experiment Design and Proposal Writing in Participating Communities
Community-wide engagement in SSEP; student teams frame experiments; student teams write and submit 5-page proposals to your community’s lead organization on SSEP. Note: all proposing teams should be required to send a Notice of Intent to propose (NoI) to your community’s lead organization on SSEP by October 7, 2016, so you know how many proposals you expect to receive from across your community, and the size of your needed Step 1 Review Board can be determined and assembled in advance. See the Guidance for Setting Up a Step 1 Review Board page.

November 4, 2016: Deadline for Student Team Proposal Submission to Your Community’s Lead Organization for Step 1 Review

November 7-9, 2016: proposals are processed by your community’s lead organization on SSEP and distributed to your Step 1 Review Board.

November 10-16, 2016: your community’s Step 1 Review Board completes review of proposals, and selects up to 3 finalist proposals for forwarding to NCESSE for each experiment slot you have reserved. The Step 1 Review Board must only forward proposals that meet proposal requirements, as per the Proposal Requirements Checklist (found in the Flight Experiment Proposal Guide which is downloadable from the Document Library.) If the proposals are written in a language other than English, the finalist proposals must be translated into English before they are sent to SSEP for Step 2 review.

November 16, 2016: Deadline for Finalist Proposals to be Received by NCESSE Via Email by 10:00 PM Eastern Time (USA)

CRITICAL NOTE: proposals submitted after this deadline will be rejected, and not move on to Step 2 Review

CRITICAL NOTE: proposals must be emailed to Stacy Hamel, NCESSE’s Flight Operations Manager for SSEP, at:

CRITICAL NOTE: once received, Stacy will determine if each proposal is complete. Incomplete proposals will not be accepted. As a benchmark, 50% of all finalist proposals submitted by communities to date have been deemed incomplete by NCESSE. If a proposal is incomplete, the submitting community will be notified as soon as possible, and have until 10:00 PM ET on November 22, 2016 to rectify the situation. 

November 22, 2016: Deadline for Finalist Proposals to be Accepted by NCESSE, by 10:00 PM Eastern Time (USA), for Step 2 Review

CRITICAL NOTE: proposals that are still deemed incomplete by this deadline will be rejected, and not move on to Step 2 Review  

November 28 – November 29, 2016: finalist proposals are processed by SSEP Team and distributed to Step 2 Review Board.

December 5 & 7, 2016: Step 2 Review Board Meets

December 9, 2016: Flight Experiments Tentatively Selected
NCESSE reviews Board’s comments, assesses if there are any outstanding questions regarding experiment design, fluids/solids to be flown, requested special handling, and requested crew interaction aboard ISS, and contacts student teams for any clarification or missing information. This milestone is not associated with a public announcement.

December 9-14, 2016: Student Teams Lock Down Their Experiments 
Based on the feedback from the Step 2 Review Board, student experiment teams finalize their: 1) List of Experiment Samples (fluids/solids to be flown), with prescribed concentrations and volumes, 2) request for any Special Handling Requirements during transport to and from ISS, and 3) baseline Timeline of Crew Interactions which includes both the proposed Crew Interaction Days and proposed Crew Interactions aboard ISS, using the SSEP Flight Safety Review Form. As these forms are completed, they are forwarded by NCESSE to NanoRacks for review and approval.

December 15, 2016: Flight Experiments Formally Selected (projected date)
Once NCESSE informs a community of their formally selected flight experiment, the community is free to make a public announcement

CRITICAL NOTE: this date is dependent on final NanoRacks review and approval of each Flight Safety Review Form. While this is a target date, it can and has slipped on prior missions.

December 15, 2016: Deadline for Second and Final Installment
Deadline for NCESSE to receive second and final installment from your community, with a check to Tides Center (NCESSE’s parent non-profit) for 50% of total cost, allowing program to proceed to the flight phase.

December 21, 2016: NASA Toxicology Receives List of Experiment Samples
By this time NanoRacks provides the List of Experiment Samples to NASA Toxicology. NASA Toxicology requires receipt of the list 120 days in advance of launch. Launch must therefore take place no earlier than April 20, 2017 (note this date puts a constraint on ferry vehicles available for experiment transport to ISS).

Phase 2:
Flight Operations Phase – The timeline through Return to Earth of flight experiments —

Once flight experiments are formally selected, student flight teams can continue to refine and optimize their experiments (often in response to Step 2 Review Board comments) for likely an additional 2 months. 

Note, however, that any modification to the approved list of experiment samples (fluids and solids) for an experiment is limited to specifically REDUCING concentrations and volumes, and addition of new samples is NOT allowed. Also note that a sample can be removed entirely from the experiment’s list of samples, which corresponds to reducing the concentration to 0. 

During Phase 2, modifications to Special Handling Requirements during transport to and from ISS, Crew Interaction Days, and Crew Interactions with the experiment aboard ISS, are also possible in consultation with NCESSE and NanoRacks for likely 2 months beyond formal selection of the flight experiment. 

March 10, 2017:
 Deadline for NCESSE to Receive Mission Patch(es) to Fly to ISS, by 5:00 pm ET (USA), (see Mission Patch page)

Launch and Return to Earth Operations Milestones:
The following milestones are provided relative to the time of handover of the flight experiment mini-labs to NanoRacks in Houston. These milestones are subject to the very fluid nature of launch operations, and should be viewed as a nominal operations profile that is subject to significant change.  

NOTE: the most current public information NCESSE has regarding the launch date for Mission 11 to ISS is found on the Mission 11 to ISS main page.

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 11 Payload.
Current Target: Spring 2017 (Launch Minus 18 Days)

T + 12 Days: SSEP Mission 11 Payload Turned over by NanoRacks to NASA for Vehicle Integration
Current Target: Spring 2017 (Launch Minus 6 Days)

T + 16 Days: SSEP Mission 11 Payload Is Loaded into Ferry Vehicle (Launch Minus 2 Days)

T + 18 Days: Launch of SSEP Mission 11 Payload to ISS
Current Target: Spring 2017, (Ferry Vehicle: To Be Determined) 

T + 3 Weeks: Payload Transferred from Ferry Vehicle to ISS (Launch Plus 2 to 3 Days)

T + 7 to 9 Weeks (or longer): SSEP Mission 11 Payload Returns to Earth (Aim is for Launch Plus Approximately 4 to 6 Weeks, but can be significantly longer; Actual: To Be Determined)
Current Target: Spring/Summer 2017 (Ferry Vehicle: To Be Determined)

Return to Earth + (24 to 60) Hours: SSEP Mission 11 Payload Received by NanoRacks in Houston; Mini-labs Shipped Directly To Experiment Teams
Mini-lab ships as soon as FedEx is open. Shipping will be done as per special handling requirements defined by flight experiment team, e.g., pack mini-lab with cold packs or dry ice. International experimenters will need to have their mini-lab shipped to a U.S. address such as an embassy or a consulate, have a representative pick up their mini-lab in Houston, or make other international transport arrangements that take into account all customs requirements.

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.