SSEP Mission 9 to ISS: Flight Operations

Information added or updated since this page went live on June 23, 2016, is in GREEN TEXT below.
Information still to be determined (if any) is in RED TEXT below.
Dates and times that are subject to change at NASA’s discretion are in PURPLE TEXT below.

Last update of this page: March 14, 2017 12:48 pm ET

This page provides student flight experiment teams comprehensive information on flight phase operations for SSEP Mission 9 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


1. Critical Timeline for Flight Phase Operations

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 operations team when new information on possible changes to launch and landing dates becomes available. 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.

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.

The Critical Timeline for flight phase operations for SSEP Mission 9 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-Laboratories from 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, heat seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around each mini-lab, and load the mini-lab into the SSEP Mission 9 Payload.
Current Target: January 27, 2017 (Launch Minus 19 Days)

  • NOTE: The NET (No Earlier Than) date for mini-labs to arrive at NanoRacks in Houston is December 6, 2016
  • 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 Saturday (see Section 5 below).

T + 11 Days:  NASA conducts Human Factors Review of the SSEP Mission 9 Payload
Current Target: ~February 10, 2017 (Launch Minus Approximately 7 Days)

T + 11 Days: SSEP Mission 9 Payload Turned over by NanoRacks to NASA for Vehicle Integration
Current Target: ~February 10, 2017 (Launch Minus Approximately 7 Days)  

Launch Minus 2 Days or Less: SSEP Mission 9 Payload Loaded into Ferry Vehicle, SpaceX CRS-10 (SpaceX-10)
Current Target: ~February 16-17, 2017

T + 18 Days: Launch of SSEP Mission 9 Payload to ISS
February 19, 2017 at 9:38 am ET
Vehicle: SpaceX-10 Commercial Resupply Mission to the ISS (Falcon rocket, Dragon spacecraft) 

T + 21 Days (3 weeks): Payload Transferred from Ferry Vehicle to ISS
February 23, 2017 (Launch Plus 4 Days)

T + ~7 Weeks: Ferry Vehicle with SSEP Mission 9 Payload Returns to Earth 
Current Target: March 19, 2017; vehicle: SpaceX-10 Dragon

Return to Earth + (24-60) Hours: SSEP Mission 9 Payload Received by NanoRacks in Houston; Mini-Laboratories Shipped Directly To Experiment Teams
Mini-lab ships as soon as intake is completed by NanoRacks. Shipping will be done as 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 or return to ensure proper arrangements have been made to meet customs requirements.  Alternatively, arrangements can be made to pick up mini-labs in person in Houston.


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

Each student flight experiment team must lock down the details associated with the final flight configuration of their experiment using a form titled the Flight Configuration FormThis form 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 of the Form is to ensure that the student team, NCESSE, and NanoRacks 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) thermal control requirements for mini-lab transport to and from Houston and to and from ISS.  Flight Configuration Forms are due to NCESSE for review, approval, and signature by July 1, 2016.

The preliminary version of this form, titled the Flight Safety Review Form, was completed by each student flight team – and approved by NCESSE and NanoRacks – as a requirement for the experiment to be selected for flight, and in support of the formal NASA Flight Safety Review by NASA Toxicology. The preliminary form was completed immediately after experiment selection.  A second iteration of the Form (unique to SSEP Mission 9 to the ISS) was completed and processed in February 2016.

Each student flight experiment team had the ability to refine their experiment in the intervening time between experiment selection and the submission of the second iteration of the Flight Safety Review Form. Now, with the submission of the Flight Configuration Form (by July 1, 2016) 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.
  • The 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:

  • 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.
  • Thermal Control 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.

Schedule for Submission and Approval of Flight Configuration Forms

June 10, 2016: Flight Configuration Form was sent to the Teacher Facilitator and Community Program Director(s) for each student flight team.

July 1, 2016: deadline for NCESSE to receive a completed first draft of the Flight Configuration Form from the Teacher Facilitator. The form must be sent to the SSEP Flight Operations Manager Stacy Hamel at:

July 1-8, 2016: time for those teams requesting modification to work with NCESSE/NanoRacks on any clarification requests, etc., as needed to lock-in and finalize the Form.

July 8, 2016: HARD DEADLINE for final, signed Flight Configuration Forms to be received by NanoRacks.


3. Preparing the Mini-Laboratory for Flight

Results of Flight Safety Review

NanoRacks provided the data contained on the Flight Safety Review Forms to NASA Toxicology for all 21 experiments flying on SpaceX-10. The results of Flight Safety Review:


Mini-Laboratory Kits Shipped to the M9 Communities

In September 2015 a package of five mini-lab kits was sent to each Mission 9 community. One of these mini-lab kits is to be used to assemble the mini-lab 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.

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
– 5 green colored tape strips
– 3 blue colored tape strips
– 1 blue Sharpie
– 1 green Sharpie
– 10 zip-ties

Loading Experiment Samples into the Mini-Laboratory

Each flight experiment team will load their 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 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-lab. To help the teams with the loading process, NanoRacks has created instructional videos that are available in the SSEP Document Library. All teams are required to view the loading videos before loading the flight and ground truth mini-labs. The 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. IMPORTANT: NanoRacks also offers, and strongly encourages, a Loading & Shipping Videoconference between flight teams and a NanoRacks staff member. During the call, the NanoRacks staffer will assist the student flight team in loading and packaging the flight mini-lab for shipping to NanoRacks in Houston, and will answer questions and provide detailed guidance for each step. NCESSE strongly encourages every team to take advantage of this opportunity as there are often loading errors that occur when teams do not participate in the videoconferences that can require loading a new flight mini-lab and paying to ship a second properly loading mini-lab to NanoRacks in Houston for flight.

Critical notes:

  • Student flight teams must not load their experiment samples into the flight and ground truth mini-labs until they have received their approved and signed Flight Configuration FormsThe reason: modifications the team may have proposed could be rejected by NCESSE/NanoRacks. What is loaded into the Mini-Laboratory must precisely reflect what is specified on the approved and signed form or NanoRacks will not accept the mini-lab for flight, and the flight opportunity will be forfeit. Also, a copy of the signed Flight Configuration Form must be included in the box with the flight mini-lab that is shipped to NanoRacks in Houston.
  • Student flight teams must ship the complete, flight-ready mini-lab. NanoRacks will not add any samples to the mini-lab 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.
  • 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 advised to participate in the NanoRacks loading videoconference. 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, difficulty for NanoRacks to load the mini-lab into the SSEP Mission 9 Endeavor payload box (due to wrong clamp orientation), 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 did participate in a NanoRacks 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.


4. Planning for Return Shipping: Required Materials and What You Should Include with Your Shipment of the Flight-Ready Mini-Laboratory to Houston 

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-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 the details required to complete and pay for a FedEx Return Airbill for return shipping.  NCESSE will complete a return air bill for each community and ship it NanoRacks in advance of the scheduled return to Earth date for your Mission. Do not include a pre-paid air air bill in your Mini-laboratory shipment to NanoRacks in Houston.

All information NCESSE needs to complete a FedEx Return Airbill for your community must be in hand at NCESSE AT LEAST 2 weeks before the payload is scheduled for return to Earth.

Teams must provide all required information for NCESSE to accurately and completely fill out the FedEx Return Airbill on behalf of your community, including:

  • The address to which the mini-lab is to be sent after flight: Recipient’s Name, Company, Address, City, State, and Zip. Note that NanoRacks encourages return shipment to a business/school address and not a home address to ensure that the package is not left unattended on a doorstep in the event someone is not home at the time of delivery.
  • Choice of delivery speed (overnight highly recommended).
  • Choice of Saturday delivery, if appropriate, given the delivery speed chosen. Note that there is usually an extra charge for Saturday delivery.
  • 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.
  • Payment information, either a FedEx account number (i.e., the school district’s) or a credit card.  If paying by credit card the following information must be provided: the credit card number, name on the card, billing zip code, the 3-digit CSV code on the back of the card, and the expiration date.

Important note: NanoRacks cannot send back the flight mini-lab to the student team if the above information is not provided to NCESSE at least 2 weeks in advance of return to Earth (unless the team is picking up the mini-lab in person after the flight.)

Provide the information for the FedEx Airbill to:

Stacy Hamel
SSEP Flight Operations Manager


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-Laboratory cannot arrive in Houston sooner than December 6, 2016, and cannot arrive later than January 27, 2017

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 Stacy Hamel ( and let us know.

Important note – missing the deadline: If your flight Mini-Laboratory is not delivered by the January 27, deadline (for whatever reason), 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. 
  • 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 ( 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-Laboratory to:

NanoRacks, LLC
Attn: SSEP Mission Integration (Patrick Sinnott)
555 Forge River Road
Suite 120
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 Stacy Hamel, 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 Form (see Section 2 above) how the mini-lab is to be handled from arrival at NanoRacks until arrival at ISS.  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 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.


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

After the individual mini-labs are incorporated into the SSEP M9 payload, the entire payload is handed over to NASA. The SSEP Mission 9 Endeavor payload of experiments will be transported in two payload boxes, one requiring refrigeration during transport to the ISS, and one that will remain at room temperature during transport to the ISS.


7. Operations Aboard the International Space Station

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-10 Dragon, which is scheduled to unberth from the station on March 18, 2017 and return to Earth on March 19, 2017.

Experiment Timeline on the Station

The timeline aboard ISS for handling each team’s mini-lab is defined in the Flight Configuration Form (see Section 2 above). NanoRacks will incorporate the Crew Interaction Days and specific crew interactions, as specified on the approved Form 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 9 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 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 9 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).


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 payload is scheduled to return to Earth aboard SpaceX-10 Dragon on March 19, 2017. 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 2460 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 have sent all information required for NCESSE to complete the return FedEx Airbill on your behalf (see Section 4). Shipping will be done as per thermal control requirements defined by the student flight team in the Flight Configuration Form (see Section 2 above.) and NanoRacks will provide any thermal control materials required for return shipping (e.g., cold packs, etc.).

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 Flight Operations Manager Stacy 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 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), 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.

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.