Information added or updated since this page went live on January 15, 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: January 25, 2022, 11:15 am ET
Due to impact of the COVID-19 pandemic SSEP Mission 16 to the ISS was split into Mission 16A and 16B. 19 communities (21 flight experiments) followed the initial SSEP Mission 16 Critical Timeline (16A), while 3 communities (3 flight experiments) that were severely impacted by the pandemic during the 9 weeks of experiment design and proposal writing followed an alternate Critical Timeline (16B) provided on this page.
Below is a timeline of milestones for SSEP Mission 16B 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 16B experiments payload to and from ISS is a SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission expected to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL, in Spring/Summer 2022. The typical duration on orbit is 4-6 weeks. This page therefore includes only general target dates for milestones associated with the Flight Operations Phase in Fall/Winter 2022.
Phase 1: Experiment Design Phase – the timeline through selection of flight experiments—
March 16, 2021: SSEP National Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for SSEP Mission 16 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 16 – August 23, 2021 (23 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 224 of the 308 SSEP community programs associated with the seventeen flight opportunities to date—SSEP on the final two Space Shuttle flights, and SSEP Missions 1 through 15 to ISS. We are committed to doing the same for SSEP Mission 16 to ISS.
August 23, 2021: 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 24, 2021: 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 16 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 24. 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 1, 2021: SSEP begins in all participating communities
TO GET STARTED WITH SSEP IN YOUR COMMUNITY: read the Teacher and Student Resources page.
September 8, 2021: NCESSE ships 2 Demonstration Fluids Mixing Enclosure Kits to Each Participating Community.
These ‘Demo Mini-labs’, which are labeled as such, are not to be used to conduct actual experiments. They are to be used solely to demonstrate to teachers and students the design, assembly, and operation of a Mini-lab. Five additional ‘Experiment-grade Mini-labs’ will be shipped to each participating community once the flight experiment is formally selected. The Experiment-grade Mini-labs will be used by the flight team for experiment optimization, and as the actual flight and ground control mini-labs used to formally conduct the flight experiment.
October 8, 2021: 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 Flight Operations Manager for SSEP, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 8 to submit an approvable Plan.
October 15, 2021: 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 20, 2021 (EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 3, 2021): 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.
February 9 – April 13, 2022: 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) statement –a very short letter or email – to your community’s lead organization on SSEP by March 9, 2022, 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.
April 13, 2022: Deadline for Student Team Proposal Submission to Your Community’s Lead Organization for Step 1 Review
April 13-15, 2022: proposals are processed by your community’s lead organization on SSEP and distributed to your Step 1 Review Board.
April 18-22, 2022: 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.
April 22, 2022: 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 Senior Flight Operations Manager for SSEP, at: email@example.com.
CRITICAL NOTE: once received, Stacy will determine if each proposal is complete. Incomplete proposals will not be accepted. As a benchmark, 85% 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 April 28, 2022 to rectify the situation.
April 28, 2022: 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.
April 29-May 3, 2022: finalist proposals are processed by SSEP Team and distributed to Step 2 Review Board.
May 10, 2022 Step 2 Review Board Meets and Tentatively Selects the Flight Experiments
May 11-18, 2022: NCESSE Processes Step 2 Review Board Comments
NCESSE assesses Review Board comments regarding each tentatively selected flight experiment. The Board’s comments will likely include a list of issues that need to be addressed by the student team before the experiment can be declared the formally selected flight experiment.
May 18, 2022: Flight Experiments Tentatively Selected
NCESSE informs the Community Program Director(s) in each community which of their finalist experiments was tentatively selected as the flight experiment. This milestone is not associated with a public announcement.
May 18-25, 2022: Student Teams Address Outstanding Issues from Step 2 Review Board
NCESSE informs each student team what issues must be addressed before their experiment can be formally selected as the flight experiment. Student teams need to be prepared to rapidly address issues across a broad range of topics, including: experiment design, choice of fluids/solids to be flown, requested special handling, requested Crew Interaction Days, requested crew interactions aboard ISS, and their experimental analysis. NCESSE will work closely with each team to lock down all outstanding issues, and using a document called the Preliminary Flight Safety Review Form, lock down all the needed information about the experiment for NanoRacks to review and approve as the formally selected flight experiment. Once the Preliminary Flight Safety Review Form is completed, it is forwarded to NanoRacks for review and approval.
May 25, 2022: Flight Experiments Formally Selected (note – this is a target date)
NCESSE informs a community of their formally selected flight experiment. The community is now free to make a public announcement.
CRITICAL NOTE: this date is dependent on final Nanoracks review and approval of each Preliminary Flight Safety Review Form. While this is a target date, it can and has slipped on prior missions. The community is not free to make a public announcement until NCESSE informs the community of their formally selected flight experiment.
May 26, 2022: NCESSE ships 5 Experiment-Grade Fluids Mixing Enclosure Kits to Each Participating Community.
These ‘Experiment-grade Mini-labs’ will be used by the flight team for: i) experiment optimization, and ii) as the actual flight and ground control mini-labs in which to formally and concurrently conduct the experiment on ISS and on the ground. No more than 2 Experiment-grade Mini-labs should be used for optimization; 1 should be carefully set aside for use as the flight experiment to be shipped to Houston for payload integration; and 2 should be carefully set aside for use as the ground control experiments.
Phase 2: Flight Operations Phase – the timeline through Return to Earth of flight experiments—
May 25, 2022 – July 6, 2022 (6 weeks): Student Team Refines and Optimizes their Experiment Using FME Mini-Lab
Over this 6-week period the student team is directed to carry out refinement and optimization of their experiment in the FME mini-lab. By the end of this period:
CRITICAL NOTE: the student team must fully determine the Experiment Samples (fluids and solids) to be used, and the maximum volumes and concentrations of these Experiment Samples. The student team will have no ability before the launch of their experiment to: i) add new fluids and solids or ii) increase volumes and/or concentrations of those fluids and solids.
CRITICAL NOTE: the student team will have a good understanding of: i) Special Handling Requirements during transport to and from ISS, and ii) the baseline Timeline of Crew Interactions, which includes both the proposed Crew Interaction Days and proposed Crew Interactions aboard ISS.
NCESSE will work with each student team to capture all this information, which is critical for Flight Safety Review by NASA Toxicology. To accomplish this, NCESSE will use a document called the Final Flight Safety Review Form, and a first draft of this Form is due to NCESSE on July 6, 2022.
July 6-12, 2022: NCESSE Works with Student Team to Lock Down Experiment for Flight Safety Review
NCESSE will work with each student team to complete an acceptable Final Flight Safety Review Form. Once complete the Form will be forwarded to Nanoracks for review and approval. Nanoracks will then create a master list of experiment samples across all Mission 16 experiments and forward to NASA Toxicology.
July 13, 2022: 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 to carry out the Flight Safety Review. Launch must therefore take place no earlier than November 13, 2022 (note this date puts a constraint on ferry vehicles available for experiment transport to ISS).
July 12, 2022, through 2 Months Before Launch: Student Team Can Continue to Refine and Optimize Their Experiment
Once the List of Experiment Samples is provided to NASA Toxicology, student flight teams can continue to refine and optimize their experiments up through 2 months before launch. However, given Flight Safety Review is now underway, student teams need to be aware of the following limitations on experiment refinement during this period –
CRITICAL NOTE: any modification to the approved list of experiment samples (fluids and solids) for an experiment is now 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.
CRITICAL NOTE: modifications to Special Handling Requirements during transport to and from ISS, Crew Interaction Days, and Crew Interactions with the experiment aboard ISS, are possible in consultation with NCESSE and Nanoracks.
During this period NCESSE will work with each student flight team to fully define the final Flight Experiment configuration, including all information listed in the Critical Notes above. This will be accomplished using a document called the Flight Configuration Agreement. NCESSE will forward completed forms to NanoRacks for review, approval, and sign off.
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 16B to ISS is found on the Mission 16 to ISS main page.
T=0, Handover: Deadline for Nanoracks to Receive All Mini-labs from M16B Flight Experiment Teams
Once received, Nanoracks will log receipt of shipment, apply a second set of zip ties and a sealant to each of the end caps, heat seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-laboratory, and load the mini-lab into the SSEP Mission 16 Payload.
Current Target: Fall/Winter 2022 (Launch Minus 18 Days)
T + 12 Days: SSEP Mission 16B Payload Turned over by Nanoracks to NASA for Vehicle Integration
Current Target: Fall/Winter 2022 (Launch Minus 6 Days)
T + 16 Days: SSEP Mission 16B Payload Is Loaded into Ferry Vehicle (Launch Minus 2 Days)
T + 18 Days: Launch of SSEP Mission 16B Payload to ISS
Current Target: Fall/Winter 2022
T + 3 Weeks: Payload Transferred from Ferry Vehicle to ISS (Launch Plus 2 to 3 Days)
T + 7 to 9 Weeks: SSEP Mission 16B Payload Returns to Earth (Aim is for Launch Plus Approximately 4 Weeks)
Current Target: Winter 2022
Return to Earth + (24 to 60) Hours: SSEP Mission 16B 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.
Receipt of Flight Experiment by Student Team + 10 days: Submission of the Mini-laboratory Inspection in Advance of Harvesting Report
The Mini-laboratory Inspection in Advance of Harvesting Report must be completed and submitted to NCESSE within 10 days of your student team’s receipt of the flight mini-laboratory, and preferably much sooner. This report allows the student team to formally provide details of their visual inspection of both the flight and ground control mini-labs and assess if any operational anomalies are observed. This report must be submitted within 10 days of receipt of your flight experiment if we are to report any anomalies to the launch services provider.