All information added or updated since this page first went up on October 21, 2013, is in
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: November 11, 2013, 12:29 pm ET
This page provides student flight experiment teams comprehensive information on the flight phase operations for SSEP Mission 3b and Mission 4 to the International Space Station.
NOTE: this page is for:
a) the 12 (of 17) Mission 3 to ISS student flight teams flying experiments as part of the SSEP Mission 3b Falcon II payload,
b) the 11 Mission 4 to ISS student flight teams flying experiments comprising the Mission 4 Orion payload.
All 23 experiments are flying on Orbital Sciences 1 (Orb-1; the first operational flight of the Cygnus spacecraft) currently scheduled for launch out of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wallops Island, Virginia, NET (No Earlier Than) December 15, 2013 (based on media reporting, see NASA Spaceflight.com, and Spaceflight Now).
See the Mission 3 Historical Notes for information regarding why the Mission 3 payload was split into the Falcon I payload (5 of 17 experiments), which launched on Orb-D1 on September 18, 2013, and the Falcon II payload (12 of 17 experiments) launching on Orb-1.
This 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. Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form
3. Preparing the Mini-Laboratory for Flight
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 the discretionary ability of the agencies involved with the spacecraft launch and landing to make schedule changes, all student teams are asked to remain flexible. This page will be updated by the SSEP operations team when new information on possible changes with launch and landing dates become available. 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 and landing dates.
The Critical Timeline for flight phase operations for SSEP Mission 3b/4 to the International Space Station is provided below. All SSEP student experiment teams are required to abide by the following 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 All Mini-labs from Flight Experiment Teams; Experiment includes any Modifications to Fluid/Solid Concentrations, Crew Interactions and Activities, and Special Handling Requirements that were Approved by NCESSE/NanoRacks
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 3b/4 Payloads.
Current Target: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 (Launch Minus 2 Weeks)
NOTE: The NET (no earlier than) date for experiments to arrive at NanoRacks in Houston is Thursday, November 21. NanoRacks will not accept delivery after 12 noon CT on Wednesday, November 27 through Sunday, December 1 due to the Thanksgiving Holiday and spotty FedEx service during this period.
T + 3 Days: SSEP Mission 3b/4 Payloads Turned over by NanoRacks to NASA for Vehicle Integration
Current Target: December 6, 2013 (Launch Minus 9 Days)
Launch Minus 10 Days or Less: SSEP Mission 3b/4 Payloads Loaded into Ferry Vehicle (Orb-1)
T + 2 Weeks: Launch of SSEP Mission 3b/4 Payloads to ISS
Current Target: December 15, 2013; vehicle: Orb-1; launch window: XX minutes
T + 2 Weeks: Payloads Transferred from Ferry Vehicle to ISS (Launch Plus Approximately 3 Days)
Current Target: December 18, 2013
T + 14.5 Weeks: SSEP Mission 3b/4 Payloads Return to Earth (Launch Plus 12.5 Weeks)
Current Target: March 13, 2014; vehicle: Soyuz 36S
Return to Earth + (24-48) Hours: SSEP Mission 3b/4 Payloads 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, or work out other specific arrangements with NCESSE and NanoRacks. Alternatively, they can have a representative pick up their mini-lab in Houston.
Each student flight experiment team must lock down the details associated with the final flight configuration of their experiment using a form titled the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration. This form must be submitted to NCESSE – and approved by NCESSE – before filling and shipping your flight-ready mini-laboratory to NanoRacks in Houston. The purpose of the Form is to ensure that the student team and NCESSE are in full agreement on the final flight experiment details regarding: 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) special handling requirements for mini-lab transport to and from ISS.
The preliminary version of this form, titled the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Safety Review, was completed by each student flight team – and approved by NCESSE – as a requirement for their experiment to be selected for flight, and in support of the formal NASA Flight Safety Review by NASA Toxicology. This preliminary form was approved for the Mission 3b experiments by December 7, 2012, and for the Mission 4 experiments by May 20, 2013. All student flight teams have a copy of this form.
Each student flight experiment team has had the ability to continue refining their experiment in the intervening time since their experiment was selected for flight. The now required submission of the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration is the means by which the team can propose any modifications to the details of their flight experiment. However, flight teams have been 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.
- The concentrations and amounts of all samples can not be increased.
Modifications to experiment details that can be proposed, but are subject to NanoRacks approval:
- 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 during transport to and from ISS (this includes the transport legs to and from Houston).
- The Crew Interaction Days, and the specific nature of the crew interactions.
If a team wants to change any details of their experiment before loading and shipping their flight-ready mini-laboratory to Houston for launch, they must request the modifications as part of the process to finalize this Form.
Schedule for Submission and Approval of: Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration
NCESSE/NanoRacks will be reviewing, commenting on, and approving Experiment Details Confirmation Forms for a record 23 experiments. Teams should expect at least a 24-hour turn-around time from receipt of a draft Form to review and comment by NCESSE in concert with NanoRacks – and multiple iterations may be required. Therefore, the following schedule has been put in place:
By October 22, 2013: The Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration will be sent to the Teacher Facilitator for each student flight team, and the Community Program Director(s).
November 4, 2013: deadline for NCESSE to receive a completed first draft of the Form from the Teacher Facilitator. The Form must be sent to the SSEP Flight Ops Manager Stacy Hamel at: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 4-15, 2013: time for multiple iterations if needed, and lock-in of final Form.
November 15, 2013: HARD DEADLINE for NanoRacks to be in receipt of approved Form signed by Teacher Facilitator and NCESSE/NanoRacks representative.
Results of Flight Safety Review
NanoRacks provided the data contained on the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Safety Review to NASA Toxicology for all 23 experiments flying on Orb-1. For Mission 3b, these data were provided in early December 2012. For Mission 4, these data were provided in late May 2013. The results of Flight Safety Review:
STATUS OF MISSION 3b FLIGHT SAFETY REVIEW: ALL 12 EXPERIMENTS APPROVED FOR FLIGHT
STATUS OF MISSION 4 FLIGHT SAFETY REVIEW: ALL 11 EXPERIMENTS APPROVED FOR FLIGHT
Mini-Laboratory Kits Shipped to the M3b/M4 Communities
In early October 2013 a package of five Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) kits was sent to each Mission 3b/4 community. The package included 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 at least one – and possibly all of the others – will be used by the flight team to conduct their ground truth experiments.
FME Mini-Lab package contents as per the included packing list (materials provided for 5 FME Mini-Labs):
– 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
– 5 green colored tape strips
– 3 blue colored tape strips
– 1 blue Sharpie
– 1 green Sharpie
– 10 zip-ties
– 1 blank, post-flight return (to the school) Fed-Ex label
Loading Experiment Samples into the Mini-Laboratory
Each flight experiment team will load their samples into the flight and ground truth mini-laboratories at the same time. and ship the flight mini-lab to NanoRacks in Houston for incorporation in the SSEP payload. The students will be loading the 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-laboratory. To help the teams with the loading process, NanoRacks has created instructional videos that are available in the SSEP Document Library. The teams are urged to study these videos 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 and ground truth mini-labs.
- The student flight team must not load their experiment samples into the flight and ground truth mini-labs until they have received their approved and signed Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration. The reason: modifications the team may have proposed could be rejected by NCESSE/NanoRacks. What is loaded into the mini-lab must precisely reflect what is specified on the approved and signed Form or NanoRacks will not accept the min-lab for flight, and the flight opportunity will be forfeit.
- The teams must ship the complete, flight-ready mini-laboratory. NanoRacks will not add any samples to the mini-laboratory in Houston. Once NanoRacks receives the mini-lab, they will 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-laboratory will lead to forfeit of the flight opportunity.
Before a student flight experiment team ships their flight-ready mini-lab to NanoRacks, they need to formulate their plan for the return of their mini-laboratory 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 return of the SSEP payload to Earth before sending their airbill, but the return airbill must reach NanoRacks before the payload lands, so sending it at the time of the original shipment for flight is the easiest option. 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.
- Sender’s address: NanoRacks’ address in Houston (see Section 5 below).
- 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: NanoRacks cannot send back the flight mini-lab to the student team without a fully completed airbill (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 after the flight. 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.
Your flight-ready mini-laboratory must be sent to NanoRacks in Houston using FedEx, and DO NOT request a signature for delivery. Your mini-laboratory cannot arrive in Houston sooner than Thursday, November 21, 2013, and cannot arrive later than Tuesday, December 3, 2013. NanoRacks will not accept delivery after 12 noon CT on Wednesday, November 27 through Sunday, December 1 due to the Thanksgiving Holiday and spotty FedEx service during this period.
Note regarding Saturday delivery: It is possible that 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 may 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.
Important note – missing the deadline: If your flight mini-lab is not delivered by the December 3, 2013, deadline (for whatever reason), it will lead to the loss of the experiment slot and flight opportunity.
- A copy of the signed final “Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration” must be included in the shipping box.
- 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 Stacy 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 Stacy Hamel.
Ship your flight mini-lab to:
Attn: SSEP Mission Integration
18100 Upper Bay Road, Suite 150
Houston, TX 77058
Phone: +1 (832) 573-7424 (phone for Mike Johnson, NanoRacks CTO)
Dropping Off the Mini-Laboratory in Person
Instead of shipping the mini-laboratory 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 using the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration (see Section 2 above.) Where and when to drop off the mini-lab 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 your 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: 1) storage at room temperature (21-24ºC; 70-74ºF), or 2) storage in a standard refrigerator temperature (2-4°C; 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 Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration (see Section 2 above). 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 special handling requirements that need to be implemented. Any instructions written on or inside the shipping package that are not included on the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form will be ignored. During payload processing, NanoRacks will 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.
After the individual mini-laboratories are incorporated into the SSEP M3b/M4 payloads, the entire payloads are handed over to NASA where they will be placed in a cold bag to keep them refrigerated until arrival at ISS.
The SSEP payload is expected to be delivered to the International Space Station 3 days after launch. The payload will return to Earth on Soyuz 36S, which is scheduled to undock from the station on March 12, 2014.
Experiment Timeline on the Station
The timeline aboard ISS for handling each team’s mini-laboratory is defined in the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration (see Section 2 above). NanoRacks will incorporate the Crew Interaction Days and specific crew interactions, as specified on the approved Form for each mini-laboratory, 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 4 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 therefore vary from one Crew Interaction day to the next. 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 at NCESSE, and we will then post the details – including the time at which the payload was handled – on the SSEP Mission 4 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 Soyuz 36S on March 13, 2014. The payload is flown from the landing site in Kazakhstan to Houston immediately after landing, and NanoRacks is expected to receive the payload from NASA 24-48 hours after landing in Kazakhstan. NanoRacks will process the payload and turn over the mini-laboratories to the student teams as quickly as possible. A student team representative can pick up the mini-laboratory 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-laboratory shipped back to them must have either sent a return FedEx airbill with their original shipment of the mini-lab to NanoRacks in Houston (see Section 4), or have sent an airbill to NanoRacks before the SSEP payload returns to Earth. NanoRacks will use the airbill and any special handling materials provided by the team to ship the mini-lab as soon as possible. Shipping will be done as per special handling requirements defined by the student flight team in the Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration (see Section 2 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 supplies must also be sent to NanoRacks before the SSEP payload returns to Earth. This is accomplished easiest 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 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 using the Flight Experiment Details Confirmation Form – Flight Configuration (see Section 2 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 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, 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), Carnegie Institution of Washington, NASA Nebraska Space Grant Consortium, and Subaru of America, Inc., are National Partners on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.