SSEP Mission 14/15 to ISS: Flight Operations – SpaceX-22

Moreno Valley, CA (M15); Stamford, CT (M14); Bandera, TX (M14); Burleson, TX (M15); Lufkin, TX (M14)

Information added or updated since this page went live on March 23, 2021, 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: May 26, 2021, 2:46 pm ET

This page provides comprehensive information on the Flight Operations Phase of SSEP Mission 14/15 to the International Space Station – SpaceX-22, including: details on preparing the Nanoracks Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory (mini-laboratories or mini-labs) for flight; incorporation of the mini-labs into the SSEP Mission 14 Apollo payload and the SSEP Mission 15 Skylab payload; transport of the payloads to the International Space Station; science operations aboard the station; and the return of mini-labs to student flight teams for analysis after the flight. The page is divided into the following sections:
1. Critical Timeline for Flight Operations Phase
2. Submission of the Flight Safety Review and Flight Configuration Forms
3. Preparing the Mini-laboratory for Flight
4. Planning for Return Shipping
5. Shipping the Mini-laboratory to Nanoracks
6. Transport of the SSEP Payload from Houston 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


1. Critical Timeline for Flight Operations Phase

Important note: Given the complexity of transporting payloads to the International Space Station and the discretionary ability of the agencies involved with spacecraft launch and landing to make schedule changes, all student teams are asked to remain flexible. This page will be updated by the SSEP Flight Operations Team anytime new information on launch and landing dates is available and made public. All flight experiment teams are advised to regularly monitor this page.Nomenclature: During flight operations, milestones on the Critical Timeline below are stated in terms of:
  • Handover + XYZ Days/Weeks, counted from the time the student teams handover their flight ready mini-labs to Nanoracks for incorporation into the SSEP payload, or 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 are changes to the schedule, this page will be modified to reflect the new launch and landing dates, as soon as those dates are public.

The Critical Timeline for Flight Operations for SSEP Mission 14/15 to the International Space Station – SpaceX-22 is provided below. All SSEP student flight experiment teams are required to abide by the these milestones, which are subject to the very fluid nature of launch operations, and are therefore a nominal operations profile that is subject to significant change.

T=0 Handover:
 Deadline for Nanoracks to Receive Loaded Flight Mini-laboratories from Student Flight Experiment Teams
(Mini-labs must be loaded and shipped according to the specifications defined on the signed Flight Configuration Agreement, including exact samples/volumes/concentrations, and thermal controls.)
Upon receipt, Nanoracks logs and photographs each mini-lab, applies additional zip ties and sealant to the end caps, heat seals level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-lab, and integrates the mini-labs into the Payload Boxes according to the thermal controls requested.
Current Target:  Thursday, May 20, 2021 (Launch Minus 14 Days)


  • MINI-LABS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED AFTER THIS DEADLINE (Unless an exceedingly rare approval for late handover was pre-approved.)
  • Nanoracks accepts delivery of flight mini-labs during a 2-week Handover Window (T=0 MINUS 2 WEEKS through T=0). The NET (No Earlier Than) date for mini-labs to be delivered at Nanoracks in Houston is Tuesday, May 4, 2021 (T=0 MINUS 2 weeks). The Handover Window is Tuesday, May 4, 2021 through Thursday, May 20, 2021.
  • While FedEx will deliver on Saturday, Nanoracks staff will not be at the office to receive packages.  Therefore, off a mini-lab requires special handling (shipped with cold packs/requires refrigeration upon receipt) it must bio be scheduled for delivery on a Saturday (in this case Saturday, May 8 and/or 15) (see Section 5 below).

T + 10 Days:
  NASA conducts Human Factors Review of the SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads
Current Target: ~May 26, 2021 (Launch Minus Approximately 8 Days)

T + 11 Days: SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads turned over by Nanoracks to NASA for Vehicle Integration
Current Target: ~May 27, 2021 (Launch Minus Approximately 7 Days) 

T+16-18 Days:
SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads loaded into Ferry Vehicle, SpaceX CRS-22 (SpaceX-22)
Current Target: ~June 1, 2021 (Launch Minus 2 Days or Less)

T + 18 Days (2.5 weeks):
 Launch of SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads to the ISS
Current Target: June 3, 2021; time 1:29 pm EDT
Vehicle: SpaceX-22 Commercial Resupply Mission to the ISS (Space X Falcon rocket, Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft) 

T + ~20-21 Days (3 weeks): SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads transferred from Ferry Vehicle onto ISS
Current Target: ~June 5-6, 2021

T+ ~20-50 Days (3-7 weeks):
 SSEP Mission 14 and SSEP Mission 15 Flight Experiments conducted by Crew on ISS
Curent Target: ~June 5-6, 2021 through ~July 6, 2021 

T + ~50 Days (7 weeks):
 Ferry Vehicle with SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads Returns to Earth 

Current Target: July 6, 2021
Vehicle: SpaceX-22 (Cargo Dragon 2)

Return to Earth + 
(24-60) Hours: SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab Payloads received, processed and shipped to Student Flight Experiment Teams by Nanoracks in Cape Canaveral, FL
Mini-labs ship according to the specifications defined by the student flight experiment team, e.g., thermal controls defined on the Flight Configuration Agreement, and shipping speed defined on FedEx Return Airbill. International experimenters will need to work with NCESSE in advance of return to ensure proper arrangements have been made to meet customs requirements.  Alternatively, any student flight experiment team can make arrangements to pick up mini-labs in person in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Current Target: TBD


2. Submission of the Flight Safety Review Forms and Flight Configuration Agreements

Each student flight experiment team must lock-in final flight experiment details on the Flight Configuration Agreement (FCA)The FCA must be approved and signed by the Teacher Facilitator, NCESSE, and Nanoracks before the student flight team can be given approval to load and ship the flight-ready mini-lab to Nanoracks in Houston. The purpose is to ensure that the student team, NCESSE, and Nanoracks are in full agreement on the final flight experiment details: 1) the fluids and solids to be flown (specific volumes and concentrations), 2) the Crew Interactions to occur aboard ISS, and 3) thermal control requirements for the mini-lab during each leg of the mission (shipping to Nanoracks, from Nanoracks through handover to NASA, aboard the ferry vehicle until transfer to ISS, aboard ISS, on the ferry vehicle for return to Earth, and from arrival at Nanoracks through return shipping to the student flight experiment team).  The Flight Configuration Agreement is due to NCESSE for review, approval, and signature by 5:00 pm ET, Friday, April 16, 2021.

Flight experiment details are formally captured at three milestones using three forms.  The 1st milestone/Preliminary Flight Safety Review Form and the 2nd milestone/Final Flight Safety Review Form, were completed by each student flight team – and approved by NCESSE and Nanoracks.  First, as a requirement for the experiment to be selected for flight (December 2019-M14/December 2020-M15) and second, in support of formal NASA Flight Safety Review by NASA Toxicology (January-February 2020-M14/January-February 2021-M15).

Each student flight experiment team had the ability to refine their experiment in the intervening time between experiment selection and the submission of the Final Flight Safety Review Form. Now, with the submission of the Flight Configuration Agreement (by April 16, 2021) teams have one final opportunity to request CRITICAL modifications to experiment details. However, flight teams are operating under the following restrictions concerning modifications:

The aspects of experiment design that cannot be changed:

  • No new samples (fluids and/or solids) can be introduced into the experiment.
  • Concentrations and amounts of experiment samples can not be increased.
  • NCESSE and Nanoracks expect minimal to no requests for modification at this time, and only those deemed CRITICAL to experiment success will be considered.

Modifications to experiment details that can be proposed, but are subject to NCESSE and Nanoracks approval:

  • Concentrations and amounts of experiment samples can be reduced, even all the way to zero, which means that the sample is removed from the experiment.
  • Thermal control requirements during transport to and from ISS (this includes the transport legs to and from Houston).
  • Crew interaction days, and the specific nature of the crew interactions.

Schedule for Submission and Approval of Flight Configuration Agreements

March 26, 2021: Flight Configuration Agreements sent to the Teacher Facilitator and Community Program Director(s) for each student flight experiment team.

April 16, 2021: Deadline for NCESSE to receive modification requests, or a signed copy of the Flight Configuration Agreement from the Teacher Facilitator. The FCA is to be emailed to the Senior Flight Operations Manager, Stacy Hamel at:

April 16-23, 2021: Time for those teams requesting modification to work with NCESSE and Nanoracks to answer any questions or provide clarification, as needed, to lock-in the experiment details and finalize the FCA.

April 23, 2021: Deadline for Flight Configuration Agreements to be approved, signed by all parties, and delivered to Nanoracks.


3. Preparing the Mini-Laboratory for Flight

Results of NASA Toxicology’s Flight Safety Review

All experiment details from the Final Flight Safety Review Forms were provided to NASA Toxicology for the 3 SSEP Mission 14 and 2 SSEP Mission 15 experiments flying on SpaceX-22. The results of NASA’s Flight Safety Review:


Mini-Laboratory Kits Shipped to SSEP Mission 14 and SSEP Mission 15 Community Program Directors

In October 2019-M14/December 2020-M15 a package containing five mini-lab kits was shipped to Mission 14 and Mission 15 communities. One of the five mini-lab kits will be assembled, loaded with experiment samples, and shipped to Nanoracks for launch to the ISS.  At least one of the remaining mini-lab kits, and possibly all of the remaining kits, will be used by the student flight experiment team to conduct ground truth/control experiments.

Nanoracks Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory Kit Inventory (package contents for assembly of 5 mini-labs):

  • 5 parylene coated silicone tubes
  • 10 clamps
  • 5 end caps, without a threaded hole
  • 5 end caps, with a threaded hole
  • 5 polycarbonate screws, with o-rings attached
  • 10 zip-ties
  • 1 blunt industrial needle
  • 1 blue Sharpie
  • 1 green Sharpie

Loading Experiment Samples into the Mini-laboratory

Student flight experiment teams will load experiment samples into both the flight and ground truth mini-labs, and will ship the flight mini-lab to Nanoracks in Houston for incorporation into the SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab payloads. Student Researchers load experiment samples into the actual flight hardware that will fly aboard the International Space Station, and no one else will have access to the samples after the students have sealed the mini-lab.

To assist student flight experiment teams in successfully loading the flight and ground truth mini-labs, several support options are provided.

  • Nanoracks Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory Operation videos are available in the SSEP Document Library. These, Nanoracks created videos, provide instruction for loading a Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3 mini-lab.  All student flight experiment teams and Teacher Facilitators are required to view the videos before loading the experiment samples into the flight and ground truth mini-labs. Please note: Nanoracks staff uses the following terminology interchangeably when referencing the mini-laboratories – Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory, MixStix, Mixture Tube, and mini-lab.
  • Student flight experiment teams are urged to practice loading samples (or dummy versions of samples) into the mini-lab to assist with smooth and accurate loading when preparing the actual flight and ground truth mini-labs.
  • Nanoracks strongly encourages all teams, and requires any team where the leadership (e.g., the Teacher Facilitator or Community Director) who will assist with loading the flight and ground truth mini-labs has not previously participated, to participate in a Nanoracks Loading & Shipping Videoconference while loading experiment samples into the flight mini-lab. During the videoconference, a Nanoracks staffer will walk the student flight experiment team through the process of loading the experiment samples into the mini-lab, and packaging the mini-lab for shipping to Nanoracks in Houston.  The Nanoracks expert will answer any questions, and provide detailed guidance for each step. The student flight experiment team, and the Teacher Facilitator (or other community adult representative working closely with the team and SSEP, e.g. a Community Director) must participate in the videoconference.
  • A SSEP Mini-laboratory Handover Checklist, detailing tasks to be completed in advance of, during, and after loading the flight and ground truth mini-labs is provided to all Teacher Facilitators. Each item on the Handover Checklist must be marked once completed, and a copy must be included in the box with the flight mini-lab that is shipped to Nanoracks in Houston.

Critical notes:

  • Student flight experiment teams must not load experiment samples into the flight and ground truth mini-labs until the Flight Configuration Agreementis approved and signed by all parties. The reason: any proposed modifications could be rejected and what is loaded into the mini-lab must precisely reflect what is specified on the signed Flight Configuration Agreement or Nanoracks will not accept the mini-lab, and the flight opportunity will be forfeited. Also, a copy of the signed Flight Configuration Agreement must be included in the box with the flight mini-lab that is shipped to Nanoracks in Houston.  For safety reasons, Nanoracks will not handle mini-labs that are sent without a copy of the signed Flight Configuration Agreement.
  • Student flight experiment teams must ship the complete, flight-ready mini-lab. The mini-lab will not be opened, and Nanoracks can not add any samples.  Shipping of samples that are not inside the flight-ready mini-lab will lead to forfeit of the flight opportunity.
  • When loading, student flight experiment teams must pay particular attention to the proper torquing of the screw in one end cap, the orientation of the clamps when placed on the tube, and the appropriate tightening of zip-ties. What might appear to be straight-forward handling/loading procedures if not done properly can cause leaking; or in the case of improper clamp orientation, rejection of the mini-lab during intake at Nanoracks; and other anomalies that could result in mini-lab failure. If there is a mini-lab failure, and it is determined by Nanoracks as due to improper loading, Nanoracks can refuse a no cost re-flight. If the team participated in a Nanoracks Loading & Shipping Videoconference, Nanoracks will have more information regarding the loading procedures of your team, and can evaluate any anomalies more effectively.
  • The Nanoracks Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory Operation videos indicate that a prepaid FedEx air bill should be included in the box with the flight mini-lab when shipping to Nanoracks in Houston.  This is no longer the process for providing payment for return shipping, so please disregard and DO NOT send a prepaid FedEx air bill with the flight mini-lab when shipping to Nanoracks in Houston (see current process below).
  • The Nanoracks Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory Operation videos provide details for applying green and blue tape to the ends of the flight and ground control mini-labs.  Applying colored tape is no longer part of the loading process and therefore these details should be disregarded.


4. Planning for Return Shipping

Before a student flight experiment team ships their flight-ready mini-lab to Nanoracks, they need to formulate the plan for the return of their mini-lab after 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, Nanoracks will provide the materials needed, e.g., cold packs and insulated envelopes.

Return Shipping via Fed Ex

If your flight experiment team wants the mini-lab shipped back to them after the flight (which has been the case for nearly every SSEP experiment since program inception), the team must provide NCESSE with an electronic copy of a completed and paid FedEx Return Airbill. Do not include a pre-paid return air bill in your mini-lab shipment to Nanoracks in Houston. NCESSE will provide the details and deadlines for completing this process via email sometime after launch of the payload to the ISS and no later than 2 weeks before return to Earth. 

Important note: Nanoracks will not send back the flight mini-lab to the student team if the process for submitting a complete and pre-paid return airbill is not completed before Return to Earth.


5. Shipping the Mini-Laboratory to Nanoracks

Your flight-ready mini-lab must be sent to Nanoracks in Houston using FedEx, and must NOT request a signature for delivery. Your mini-lab cannot arrive in Houston earlier than Tuesday, May 4, 2021, and cannot arrive later than Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Note regarding Saturday delivery: Nanoracks staff will not be on site to accept the package if it arrives on Saturday. Note that the package is being dropped off at a secure facility, so that Saturday delivery is fine if there are no impacted special handling requirements. For example, if you have need for refrigeration, and the package arrives on Saturday, cold packs you shipped with the mini-lab will be exhausted before staff return on Monday. Also note that if you accidentally request signature on delivery, and the package arrives on a Saturday, the package will be placed back on the FedEx truck and might not be re-delivered for a few days. Also note that FedEx does not deliver on Sunday. Work with FedEx so that your package is delivered in compliance with these requirements and constraints. Note: if your package is being delivered on a Saturday, please send an email to John Hamel (

Important Note – Missing the Deadline: If your flight mini-lab is not delivered by Tuesday, May 18, 2021 the Handover deadline, it will lead to the loss of the experiment slot and flight opportunity.

Important requirements:

  • The Mini-Laboratory Handover Checklist must be complete before shipping.
  • A copy of the Flight Configuration Agreement and the completed Handover Checklist must be included in the box with the flight mini-lab when shipping to Nanoracks in Houston.
  • All packages must be sent using FedEx. Be sure to write down the tracking number for your package and DO NOT request a signature on delivery.
  • Once you ship your flight mini-lab to Nanoracks in Houston, please send an email to John Hamel ( with the FedEx tracking number. Note that if you use the FedEx website to print your shipping label, in the “E-mail Notifications” section you can specify that emails tracking the progress of the package along the route are automatically sent to you.  Please also specify that these emails should also be sent to John Hamel.
  • Please note, if the team is shipping to Nanoracks with cold packs a special container must also be used. Placing cold packs in a box or other non-insulated container will not maintain refrigeration during shipping and your mini-lab will arrive warm in Houston, see the Nanoracks document Shipping Your Mini-laboratory in an Environmentally-Controlled (Cold) Package for further details.

Ship your flight Mini-laboratory to:

Nanoracks, LLC
Attn: SSEP Mission Integration
503 Forge River Road
Suite 400
Webster, TX 77598

Dropping Off the Mini-laboratory in Person

Instead of shipping the mini-lab using FedEx, the student experiment team also has the option of dropping off their mini-lab in person in Houston. This is considered a special handling requirement and must be requested in advance by emailing SSEP Flight Operations Manager, John Hamel,

Incorporating the Mini-laboratory into the SSEP Payload

Once Nanoracks receives your mini-lab, 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-lab is stored: 1) storage at room temperature (21-24ºC; 70-74ºF), or, 2) storage in a standard refrigerator temperature (2-4°C; 36-39°F). Teams will designate through the Thermal Control Requirements section of the Flight Configuration Agreement (see Section 2 above) how the mini-lab is to be handled from arrival at Nanoracks until incorporation into the SSEP payload for handover to NASA for payload integration. The SSEP payload processing facility will have copies of the FCA, they will match it to the copy you included in your mini-lab shipment, and on arrival, each mini-lab will be assessed as to whether there are thermal control requirements that need to be implemented. Any instructions written on or inside the shipping package that are not included on the FCA will be ignored.


6. Transport of the SSEP Payload from Houston to the International Space Station

After the individual mini-labs are incorporated into the SSEP M14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab payloads, the entire payload is handed over to NASA. The payload of experiments will be transported in payload boxes according to the thermal control requirements (refrigeration/ambient) detailed on the FCA.


7. Operations Aboard the International Space Station

Dragon typically arrives at the International Space Station 2-3 days after launch, will remain docked at the ISS for 4 weeks, and will undock from the station and return to Earth on July 6, 2021.

Experiment Timeline on the Station

The timeline aboard ISS for handling each team’s mini-lab is defined in the Flight Configuration Agreement (see Section 2 above).  Nanoracks provides a master schedule of the specific crew interactions for each experiment, on each of the 5 allowable Crew Interaction Days to Mission Control and the crew onboard the station.  The timeline for each experiment is assessed in relation to the exact dates for arrival at and departure from ISS, as well as the overall ISS crew schedule.  Therefore, the timeline for all experiments is tentative.

Updates to Student Flight Experiment Teams on the Progress of Their Experiment

Astronauts will work with the SSEP payload at times of the day that fit best in their overall work schedule. Even though crew interactions with the experiments are to take place on pre-specified Crew Interaction Days, the time of interaction can vary from one Crew Interaction day to the next. While the SSEP Flight Operations 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 Flight Operations Team at NCESSE, and we will then post the details – including the time at which the payload was handled – on the SSEP Mission 14/15 to ISS: Experiment Log – SpaceX-22 page making the information available to all student flight experiment 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 the afternoon of a specified Crew Interaction Day will be posted on the Experiment Log no later than the afternoon of the following day (and likely far sooner than that).


8. Conducting the Ground Truth Experiments

Ground truth experiments – the control versions of the experiment conducted on Earth while the microgravity experiment is being conducted in orbit – are an essential part of analyzing the results of the flight experiment. Once the flight experiment returns to Earth, simultaneous harvesting and analysis of both the flight experiment and the ground truth experiments allows the research team to assess the role of gravity in the physical, chemical, or biological system under study. It is hard to imagine how the role of gravity can be determined without ground truth experiments conducted at the same time as the flight experiment.

However, given that it may take up to a day to receive a report on exactly what time of day a specific activity was conducted with an experiment aboard the ISS, the student team may want to shift activities with their ground truth experiments by 1 day (24 hours). That will allow teams to ensure that the timing of activities they carry out on their ground truth experiments accurately reflects the timing of activities with their experiment aboard the station. This is especially important for experiments that are sensitive to exact timing. For example, if a microbiological experiment is likely to produce different results depending on whether it is active for 40 or 50 hours, the teams will want to match the exact timing of the experiment aboard the station with their ground truth experiment.


9. Receiving the Mini-laboratory After the Flight

The SSEP Mission 14 Apollo and SSEP Mission 15 Skylab payload is scheduled to return to Earth aboard SpaceX-22 Cargo Dragon2 on July 6, 2021. Dragon splashes down in the Pacific off the California coast, and is then transported by ship back to California where the payload is removed and turned over to Nanoracks. Nanoracks will then transport the payload back to Houston. Nanoracks will process the payload as quickly as possible, so that mini-labs will be ready for shipping to the student flight teams 24-60 hours after landing. A student team representative can pick up the mini-lab in person in Houston, or Nanoracks can ship the mini-lab back to the student team.

Shipping Mini-laboratories Back to Student Teams

A student flight team that wants their mini-lab shipped back to them must NCESSE with a complete and pre-paid return FedEx Airbill (see Section 4). Nanoracks will use the airbill to ship the mini-lab as soon as possible. Shipping will be done as per thermal control requirements defined by the student flight experiment team in the Flight Configuration Agreement (see Section 2 above.)

Picking up the Mini-laboratory in Person

Instead of having the mini-lab returned using FedEx, the student experiment team has the option of picking up their mini-lab in person in Cape Canaveral, FL. This is considered a special handling requirement and must be requested in advance by emailing SSEP Flight Operations Manager, John Hamel, 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 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.