STS-135 Critical Timeline

Below is a timeline of milestones for SSEP for the STS-135 mission, the final flight of Shuttle Atlantis, and the final flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. Since the SSEP Announcement of Opportunity on December 22, 2010, we have been moving forward assuming that two highly expected decisions were to be made: 1) NASA formally declares that STS-135 will fly, and 2) the launch date slips from the current projected date of June 28, 2011 to at least August 31, 2011.

CRITICAL UPDATE: March 22, 2011
NASA has committed to full scale preparation for the launch of STS-135, and insists that the mission will fly “regardless” of the congressional funding situation (see NASA Managers insist STS-135 will fly). NCESSE is therefore proceeding with SSEP under this assumption.

However, NASA has recently reversed its desire to fly late summer to early fall 2011, and is pressing ahead with the nominal June 28, 2011 launch. NanoRacks has been in direct communication with NASA to assess how to preserve the SSEP on STS-135, and a meeting at NASA HQ on March 21, 2011 locked down the plan.

The original STS-135 Critical Timeline for SSEP (which can still be viewed HERE) was based on the NASA Toxicology Office requirement that the list of experiment samples (fluids and solids) for the selected flight experiments needed to be provided to NASA three months in advance of launch. For a June 28 launch, this list would have had to be provided to NASA by March 28, removing any ability to conduct the SSEP experiment design competition. To save SSEP on STS-135, NASA’s Toxicology Office has reviewed the entire Master List of Experiment Samples and has agreed that as long as student teams choose their samples from this list, there should be no problem with passing NASA Flight Safety Review. Since SSEP already requires student teams to only use fluids and solids on the Master List for their experiments, this NASA decision saved SSEP. We owe NASA our gratitude for making SSEP possible in the midst of the significant effort agency-wide to meet the June 28 launch date for STS-135. NASA recognizes both the impact and caliber of the SSEP, and wants to ensure it is part of the final flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program.

The milestone dates in the Critical Timeline below are now tied to a launch date of June 28, 2011. The two impacts on each community are that: 1) student team proposals are now due on May 9, 3 days earlier than the original May 12 date, and 2) the student team with the experiment selected for flight will need to meet a compressed schedule of milestones from experiment selection, to submission of samples for the Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test, to submission of samples for flight on the Space Shuttle. All communities are urged to rapidly review the new Critical TImeline below and contact NCESSE wit any questions.

UPDATE February 13, 2011: NASA Managers insist STS-135 will fly“regardless” of the Congressional funding situation.
UPDATE January 20, 2011:
NASA formally added STS-135 to its launch schedule, awaits funding allocation from Congress.
UPDATE January 11, 2011: NASA considering late August launch for STS-135 to ensure availability of needed ISS spare parts.

We will provide new information, and updates as they become available via the SSEP National Blog.

Note that the SSEP National Blog at this website is the PRIMARY SOURCE for ongoing and timely new updates for the SSEP program. We encourage ALL organizations and individuals interested in—and participating in—the SSEP to Subscribe to the Blog on the SSEP Home Page for email updates.

Launch Date History

  • Initial Launch Date: June 28, 2011
  • Slip 1: launch rescheduled for July 8, 2011, 11:26 am EDT


Phase 1: The timeline through student experiments selection—

T= 0 (December 22, 2010): Rollout of SSEP National Announcement of Opportunity.

T= +10 weeks (December 22, 2010 – March 18, 2011): 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.

WE CAN HELP IDENTIFY FUNDING: Regarding identifying and securing funding, NCESSE can greatly assist – NCESSE found funding for 11 of 16 communities participating in SSEP for STS-134.

T= +3 months: March 18: 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 with the proviso that STS-135 will fly.

T= +3 months: March 18: Go-No-Go Decision 1: based on the received Letters of Commitment, SSEP announces if the minimum number of 10 booked experiment slots has been met.

T= +3 months: March 18: Go-No-Go Decision 2: by this date, NASA must have formally announced that STS-135 is flying, and a launch delay from June 28, 2011 until at least August 31, 2011.

NASA has committed to full scale preparation for the launch of STS-135, and insists that the mission will fly “regardless” of the congressional funding situation. To carry out the mission within available fiscal and humanpower resources, NASA has reversed its desire to fly late summer to early fall 2011, and is pressing ahead with a nominal June 28 launch.

T= +3 months: March 21: by this date, each participating community must begin work on a signed contract with NCESSE. NCESSE recognizes that having a signed contract in place with each participating community will take time, and not be possible by March 21 when communities need to begin their program. NCESSE will therefore begin full program operations for participating communities on March 21 with a common understanding that a signed contract must be in place no later than April 21, 2011.

March 21 – May 9 (7 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) to your community’s lead organization on SSEP by mid-April, so the size of your needed Step 1 Review Board can be determined and assembled in advance.

TO GET STARTED WITH SSEP IN YOUR COMMUNITY: read the To Teachers—How to Move Forward page.

April 21: final date for your community and SSEP to have a signed contract in place; by this date, SSEP must have received the signed contract along with a check to Tides Center (NCESSE’s parent non-profit) for 50% of the total cost, and a check to Nanoracks for 100% of the catastrophic launch insurance.

May 9: deadline for proposals to be submitted to your community’s lead organization on SSEP.

May 10-11: proposals are processed by your community’s lead organization on SSEP and distributed to your Step 1 Reviewers.

May 12-13: your community’s Step 1 Review Board completes review of proposals, and submits up to 3 finalist proposals to SSEP 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.)

May 13: deadline for Finalist Proposals to be received by NCESSE via email BY 10:00 PM EDT for Step 2 Review.

May 14-15: finalist proposals from across the nation are processed by SSEP Team and distributed to Step 2 Reviewers.

May 18-19: Step 2 Review Panel Meets and Winning Flight Experiments are Tentatively Selected.

May 20-23: NCESSE reviews Panel’s Comments, assesses if there are any outstanding questions regarding fluids/solids to be flown and special handling instructions, contacts student teams for any clarification or missing information, and formally Selects Winners. List of proposals selected for flight are posted on this website.

May 23: by this date, in order to lock in experiment sample concentrations and special handling instructions for the NASA-required Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test, the student team must submit a F/SCT Experiment Samples Submission Form signed by the Teacher Facilitator.

May 24: NCESSE submits the final experiment samples list for the selected experiments to ITA for formal review, and handoff to NanoRacks and NASA toxicology at Johnson Space Center.

May 24: deadline for SSEP to receive second and final installment from your community, with a check to Tides Center (NCESSE’s parent non-profit) for 50% of total cost, allowing program to proceed to the flight phase.

Phase 2: The timeline for selected experiments—

All NEWLY updated information is in GREEN TEXT below.
Information still to be determined 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: June 8, 12:00 pm EDT

The Launch Plans are based on the Currently Scheduled STS-135 Liftoff:
11:26 am EDT, Friday, July 8, 2011 (see NASA Launch Schedule)


Student teams with experiments selected for flight can continue to refine their experiments until June 21, but any modification to their list of samples is limited to varying the concentrations, more specifically, lowering of concentrations, and not addition of new sample materials. Also note that a sample can be removed entirely from the experiment’s list of samples, which corresponds to reducing the concentration to 0.

NOTE: this Milestone no longer in effect: F/SCT WAS CANCELLED, see this Blog Post

May 29-June 12: ITA conducts Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test and reports results to NCESSE for dissemination to student teams. The Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test is part of the formal NASA Flight Safety Review, and is designed to assess if the experiment samples will degrade the seals on the MDA mini-lab—which could cause a breach in the first level of containment required to protect the crew cabin on the Shuttle.
NOTE: this Milestone no longer in effect: F/SCT WAS CANCELLED, see this Blog Post

June 13: NCESSE reports results of Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test to student flight teams, which may require adjustments to sample concentrations.
NOTE: this Milestone no longer in effect: F/SCT CANCELLED, see this Blog Post

June 21: student teams can no longer change concentrations associated with their Experiment Samples.

June 21: by this date, a Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form, signed by the Teacher Facilitator, and locking in sample concentrations and any special handling instructions for flight aboard the Space Shuttle, must be received by NCESSE.

June 28 (Launch minus 10 Days): the CREST-DreamUp payload processing facility at Kennedy Space Center begins accepting shipments of experiment samples from student teams. No shipments will be accepted before this time.

July 1 (Launch minus 7 Days): ITA personnel will arrive at the payload processing facility at Launch minus 7 days.

ITA requires that all Experiment Samples for the student flight experiments arrive at the payload processing facility BY Launch minus 7 days, unless they are time-sensitive samples, e.g., they contain living organisms. Time-sensitive samples can arrive as late as Launch minus 3 days WITH PRIOR APPROVAL—see next two milestones.

July 2 (Launch minus 6 Days): time sensitive samples can arrive NO LATER than this time without prior approval by ITA.

July 5 (Launch minus 3 Days): LATE LOADING DEADLINE—time sensitive samples can arrive as late as the start of Launch minus 3 Days, BUT ONLY WITH WRITTEN PRIOR APPROVAL BY ITA. The request for late loading is submitted by a student team using the Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form.

July 5 (Launch minus 3 Days): ITA begins loading of all experiment samples into the MDA mini-lab, which is contained in the CREST DreamUp payload. Representative(s) of the student team can travel to Kennedy Space Center to watch the integration, and can hand-carry their samples if time-sensitive.

July 6 (Launch minus 2 Days): ITA turns over the CREST DreamUp Payload to NASA for Shuttle integration.

July 8 (Date of Launch): flight of Atlantis begins.

On Landing (Launch plus 12 Days): representatives of the student team have the ability to receive the harvested samples at the Kennedy Space Center. Students can watch the samples being harvested on a monitor in a conference room next to the payload processing area. The community can instead opt to have ITA ship the harvested samples back via FEDEX with the cost borne by the community.

Note: the CREST-DreamUp payload is slated for early extraction. ITA receives the CREST-DreamUp payload from NASA roughly 4 to 5 hours after landing. ITA then requires approximately 45 minutes to disassemble the payload and document via still photography and video the condition of the hardware at ITA’s on-site payload processing area. It is reasonable to expect that all MDA samples will be harvested within 24 hours of the payload being turned over to ITA (less than 30 hours after shuttle landing). Depending on the student science to be performed, it may be possible to harvest in 12 to 18 hours after the payload is turned over to ITA, however, the commercial and scientific communities will have harvest priority. Time critical student experiments will be harvested following time critical commercial and scientific community experiments.
Note: if the Shuttle is diverted to its landing site in California, e.g., Edwards Air Force Base, NASA will provide ITA the payload at the landing site, and ITA will fly it back to the payload processing facility at Kennedy Space Center. This will delay the start of the harvesting process 12 to 36 hours.

Fall 2011: student final reports posted on this website.

Fall 2011/Spring 2012: If supplemental community-wide programming was requested, a National Team of scientists, engineers, and educators travels to your community to conduct, e.g., student programs, public and family programs, and professional development for teachers.

Early Summer 2012: students and teachers can attend the SSEP National Conference in Washington, DC, and report on experiment design and results.

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.