Information added or updated since this page went live on May 11, 2022, is in below.
Information still to be determined (if any) is in below.
Dates and times that are subject to change at NASA’s discretion are in below.
Last update of this page: September 26, 2023, 10:28 am ET
This page provides student flight experiment teams comprehensive information on the flight operations phase of SSEP Mission 17 to the International Space Station. The page features details on preparing the Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-Laboratory (mini-laboratories or mini-labs) for flight, incorporation of the mini-labs into the SSEP payload, transport of the payload to the International Space Station, science operations aboard the station, and the return of the mini-labs 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. 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
Important note: Given the complexity of transporting science 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 when any new information on launch and landing dates is made public. All flight experiment teams are advised to regularly monitor this page.
Nomenclature: During flight phase operations, milestones on the Critical Timeline below are stated in terms of:
- Handover + XYZ Days/Weeks, counted from the time the student teams hand over 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.
The Critical Timeline for flight phase operations for SSEP Mission 17 to the International Space Station is provided below. All SSEP student experiment teams are required to abide by the these milestones. 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.
T=0, Handover: Deadline for Nanoracks to Receive Flight Mini-Laboratories from Student Flight Experiment Teams
(Mini-labs must be loaded with the final fluid/solid concentrations and volumes, and shipped according to the thermal control requirements as defined on the signed Flight Configuration Agreement)
Once received, Nanoracks will log receipt of shipment, photograph each mini-lab, apply additional zip ties and sealant to the end caps, heat seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-lab, and load the mini-lab into the SSEP Mission 17 Payload Boxes.
Current Target: October 18, 2023
NOTE: NO MINI-LABS WILL BE ACCEPTED AFTER THIS DEADLINE
- NOTE: The NET (No Earlier Than) date for mini-labs to arrive at Nanoracks in Houston is October 4, 2023 (T=0 MINUS 2 weeks). The Handover window, dates Nanoracks will accept delivery of flight mini-labs is October 4-18, 2023.
- NOTE: While FedEx can drop off a package on Saturday there will be no Nanoracks staff at the office at this time. If the mini-lab requires special handling on arrival, e.g., placed in a refrigerator, the team should ensure that the mini-lab does not arrive on October 7 or 14. (see Section 5 below).
T + 6 Days: NASA conducts Human Factors Review of the SSEP Mission 17 Payload
Current Target: October 24, 2023 (Launch Minus Approximately 8 Days)
T + 7 Days: SSEP Mission 17 Payload turned over by Nanoracks to NASA for Vehicle Integration
Current Target: October 25, 2023 (Launch Minus Approximately 7 Days)
T + 16-17 Days: SSEP Mission 17 Payload Loaded into Ferry Vehicle, SpaceX CRS-29 (SpaceX-29)
Current Target: TBD (Launch Minus 2 Days or Less)
T + 18 Days: Launch of SSEP Mission 17 Payload to ISS
Current Target: December 2023
Vehicle: SpaceX-29 Commercial Resupply Mission to the ISS (Falcon rocket, Dragon spacecraft)
T + 12-13 Days (2 weeks): SSEP Mission 17 Payload Transferred from Ferry Vehicle to ISS
Current Target: October 30-31, 2023
T + 49 Days (7 weeks): Ferry Vehicle with SSEP Mission 17 Payload Returns to Earth
Current Target: TBD; vehicle: SpaceX-29 Dragon
Return to Earth + (24-72) Hours: SSEP Mission 17 Payload Received by Nanoracks in Houston; Mini-Laboratories Shipped Directly To Experiment Teams
Mini-lab ships as soon as intake is completed by Nanoracks, per handling requirements specified by flight experiment teams, e.g., thermal control requirements, shipping speed. 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 Houston.
Each student flight experiment team must lock down the details associated with the final flight configuration of their experiment using the Flight Configuration Agreement. This Agreement must be approved, and signed by the Teacher Facilitator, NCESSE, and Nanoracks before loading and shipping your 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 used (specific volumes and concentrations), 2) the specified Crew Interaction Days and Crew Interaction Activities aboard ISS, and 3) thermal control requirements for mini-lab transport to and from Houston and to and from ISS. The Flight Configuration Agreement is due to NCESSE for review, approval, and signature by September 13, 2023.
The preliminary versions of this Agreement, the Preliminary Flight Safety Review Form and the Final Flight Safety Review Form, were completed by each student flight team – and approved by NCESSE and Nanoracks – at two milestones. First, as a requirement for the experiment to be selected for flight (December 2022) and second, in support of the formal NASA Flight Safety Review by NASA Toxicology (February 2023).
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. Teams will have one final opportunity to request CRITICAL modifications to experiment details with the submission of the Flight Configuration Agreement (September 13). 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 all 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/Nanoracks approval:
- 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.
- 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 Forms
September 5, 2023: Flight Configuration Forms sent to the Teacher Facilitator and Community Program Director(s) for each student flight team.
September 13, 2023: deadline for NCESSE to receive modification requests, or a signed copy of the Flight Configuration Form from the Teacher Facilitator. The form is to be emailed to the Senior Flight Operations Manager, Stacy Hamel at: email@example.com
September 13-18, 2023: time for those teams requesting modification to work with NCESSE/ Nanoracks on any requests for clarification, etc., as needed to lock-in the experiment details and finalize the form.
September 18, 2023: DEADLINE for final Flight Configuration Agreements to be signed and received by Nanoracks.
Results of Flight Safety Review
Nanoracks provides the data contained on the Flight Safety Review Forms to NASA Toxicology for all 39 experiments flying on SpaceX-29. The results of Flight Safety Review:
STATUS OF MISSION 17 FLIGHT SAFETY REVIEW: APPROVED
Mini-Laboratory Kits Shipped to the M17 Communities
In September 2022 a package of two demo mini-lab kits (not certified for flight) were shipped to each Mission 17 community. These kits were to be used during the experiment design and proposal writing phase as a demonstration of the mini-labs size and operation. In January 2023 a package of two flight certified mini-lab kits were shipped to each community. These kits were to be used to test, refine, and optimize the selected flight experiment. In September 2023 a package of three mini-lab kits was shipped. One of these mini-lab kits is to be loaded with the flight experiment samples and shipped to Nanoracks for launch, while one-two mini-lab kits will be used by the flight team to conduct ground truth experiments.
Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-Laboratory package contents as per the included packing list (materials provided for 5 Mini-Laboratories):
– 10 clamps
– 5 end caps without a hole
– 5 end caps with a threaded hole
– 1 blunt industrial needle
– 5 polycarbonate screws with O-rings attached
– 5 Silicone tubes coated with Parylene
– 1 blue Sharpie
– 1 green Sharpie
– 10 zip-ties
Loading Experiment Samples into the Mini-Laboratory
Each flight experiment team will load experiment samples into the flight and ground truth mini-labs at the same time and ship the flight mini-lab to Nanoracks in Houston for incorporation into the SSEP payload. Students will load 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 teams with the loading process, Nanoracks created instructional videos that are available in the SSEP Document Library. All teams are required to view the Nanoracks loading videos before loading the flight and ground truth mini-labs. Teams are also urged to practice loading samples (or dummy versions of samples) into the device to make sure everything will go smoothly when they prepare the actual flight and ground truth mini-labs. Please note: Nanoracks staff uses the following terminology interchangeably when referencing the mini-labs, Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory, MixStix, Mixture Tube, and mini-lab.
Nanoracks also 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 mini-labs has not previously participated, to participate in a Loading & Shipping Videoconference during the loading of the experiment samples into the flight mini-lab. During the Videoconference, a Nanoracks or NCESSE 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 or NCESSE staffer will answer questions and provide detailed guidance for each step. The student 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 call.
- Student flight teams must not load experiment samples into the flight and ground truth mini-labs until the Flight Configuration Agreement is approved and signed by all parties AND a “GO” to load is received. The reason: proposed modifications could be rejected and what is loaded into the mini-lab must precisely reflect what is specified on the approved and signed Flight Configuration Agreement or Nanoracks will not accept the mini-lab for flight, and the flight opportunity will have been 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 complete Flight Configuration Agreement.
- Student flight teams must ship the complete, flight-ready mini-lab. Nanoracks will not add any samples to the mini-lab. Once Nanoracks receives the mini-lab, they will add additional zip ties and a sealant to the end caps, heat-seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around the mini-lab, and incorporate it into the SSEP payload. Shipping of samples that are not inside the flight-ready mini-lab will lead to forfeit of the flight opportunity.
- Student teams are required to view the loading videos in the SSEP Document Library prior to loading samples into the mini-labs. In addition, teams are strongly encouraged and/or required (see above) to participate in the Loading Videoconference. When loading, 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 re-flight. If the team participated in a Loading Videoconference, Nanoracks will have more information regarding the loading procedures of your team, and can evaluate any anomalies more effectively.
- In advance of loading and shipping the mini-labs, student flight teams are provided a Mini-Laboratory Handover Checklist, each item on the Checklist must be marked once completed, and the Checklist must be included in the box with the flight mini-lab that is shipped to Nanoracks in Houston.
- The Nanoracks Loading 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. However, 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).
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) a FedEx return shipping label must be completed and paid for by the community. NCESSE will request the FedEx return shipping label be completed while the flight experiment is onboard the ISS. Do not complete the return shipping label before it is requested (labels are only valid for a certain amount of time) and do not include a pre-paid return label with your flight mini-lab shipment to Nanoracks in Houston.
Important note: Nanoracks cannot ship the flight mini-lab to the student team if the FedEx return shipping label is not provided to NCESSE in advance of return to Earth.
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 October 4, and cannot arrive later than October 18.
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 most likely 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Important note – missing the deadline: If your flight Mini-Laboratory is not delivered by the October 18, deadline, it will lead to the loss of the experiment slot and flight opportunity.
- 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 (email@example.com) with the FedEx tracking number so that NCESSE and Nanoracks have the ability to track the package. 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, and you can 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:
503 Forge River Road
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 Senior Flight Operations Manager Stacy Hamel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Where and when to drop off the mini-lab will be provided to those teams who have requested this option.
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 this form, 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 Flight Configuration Agreement will be ignored. During payload processing, Nanoracks will add additional zip ties and a sealant to the end caps, and heat-seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-lab (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.
After the individual flight mini-labs are incorporated into the SSEP M17 payload, the entire payload is handed over to NASA. The SSEP Mission 17 Orbiter payload of experiments will be transported in payload boxes according to the thermal control requirements (refrigeration/ambient).
The SSEP payload is expected to be delivered to the International Space Station 2-3 days after launch. The payload will return to Earth on SpaceX-29 Dragon, which is scheduled to undock from the station and return to Earth on TBD.
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 will incorporate the Crew Interaction Days and specific crew interactions, as specified on the approved Agreement for each mini-lab, into a master schedule to be followed by astronauts on orbit. The student flight team can only ask for crew interactions with their experiment during the five scheduled Crew Interaction Days. For more information about the way the student teams can specify handling of their experiment aboard ISS, see the section titled: “4. Mixing the Experiment Samples in the FME Once in Orbit, and Astronaut Handling” on the SSEP Mission 17 to ISS: Mini-Laboratory Operation page. Note that the timeline for each experiment will be reassessed once the exact dates for arrival at and departure from ISS, as well as the overall ISS crew schedule, are known. Therefore, the timelines for all experiments remain tentative until they are incorporated into the final ISS work schedule.
Updates to Student 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 program team at NCESSE, and we will then post the details – including the time at which the payload was handled – on the SSEP Mission 17 to ISS: Experiment Log page 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 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).
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.
The SSEP payload is scheduled to return to Earth aboard SpaceX-29 Dragon on TBD. Dragon splashes down either in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida or in the Pacific off the California coast, and is then transported by ship back to land 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 24-72 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
Nanoracks will use the FedEx return shipping labels provided by each community to ship the mini-lab as soon as possible. Shipping will be done as per thermal control requirements defined by the student flight 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 Houston. This is considered a special handling requirement and must be requested in advance by emailing SSEP Senior Flight Operations Manager, Stacy Hamel, email@example.com. 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 Nanoracks LLC, which is 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.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and Subaru of America, Inc., are U.S. National Partners on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Magellan Aerospace is a Canadian National Partner on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.