Student Spaceflight Experiments Program Heritage

This page was last updated: March 7, 2018, 8:45 am ET

Night launch of SpaceX-5, January 10, 2015, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, adjoining Kennedy Space Center. Aboard the Dragon spacecraft is the SSEP Mission 6 to ISS Yankee Clipper II payload of 17 experiments. Yankee Clipper II payload operations were conducted on the International Space Station for nearly a month before Dragon de-orbit and splashdown in the Pacific off the California coast on February 10, 2015. These experiments were originally lost with the destruction of the Orbital Sciences 3 rocket on October 28, 2014. You can read about the emotional loss of the original Yankee Clipper I experiments and how the student flight teams stepped to the plate and worked to reconstitute the experiments for re-flight. The mantra at SSEP – real spaceflight all the time.  


Though the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a relatively new STEM education initiative—launched in June 2010—it already has an extensive heritage delivering real on-orbit research experiences for students in grades 5-16.

Since program inception in June 2010, there have been fourteen SSEP flight opportunities—SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, which were the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis; and SSEP Missions 1 through 12 to ISS. A total of 165 communities have participated in the program, reflecting 40 States and the District of Columbia in the U. S., 4 Provinces in Canada, and a community in Brazil. Thus far 38 communities have participated in multiple flight opportunities – two communities are conducting their 5th flight with Mission 12 – reflecting the sustainable nature of the program.

Through the first fourteen flight opportunities, a total of 86,800 grade 5-16 students across 1,648 schools were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, 18,759 flight experiment proposals were received from student teams, and 240 experiments were selected for flight. A total of 206 experiments have flown through SSEP Mission 11. Another 34 experiments are expected to launch in Spring/Summer 2018 as the Mission 12 Mercury payload of experiments on SpaceX-15, launching from Kennedy Space Center, FL. Over 100,000 more students across the entire grade preK-16 pipeline were engaged in their communities’ broader STEAM experience, submitting 99,472 Mission Patch designs.

Summary of Flight Opportunities to Date

Flight opportunities to date are summarized below. For a detailed list of critical milestones for each flight opportunity, visit the SSEP Flight Opportunities to Date page, and open the toggle labeled ” Click Here to See Summaries of SSEP Missions Critical Milestones”. 

Final Flight of Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134)
launched May 16, 2011, carrying 16 SSEP Experiments (SSEP1 Eagle payload)

Final Flight of Shuttle Atlantis, and of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program (STS-135)
launched July 8, 2011, carrying 11 SSEP experiments (SSEP2 Intrepid payload)

SSEP Mission 1 to the International Space Station
launched May 22, 2012, aboard SpaceX Dragon demonstration flight (COTS 2+) – the first commercial vehicle to berth with ISS, with 15 SSEP Mission 1 experiments (SSEP3 Aquarius payload)

SSEP Mission 2 to the International Space Station
launched October 7, 2012, aboard SpaceX-1 – the first operational flight of the Dragon spacecraft, with 11 SSEP Mission 2 experiments (SSEP4 Antares payload); and 12 SSEP
Mission 1 re-flight experiments (SSEP3b Aquarius II payload)

SSEP Mission 3 to the International Space Station
Mission 3a: launched September 18, 2013, aboard Orbital Sciences Demonstration 1 (Orb-D1), the first time the Cygnus spacecraft berthed with ISS, with 5 (of 17) SSEP Mission 3 experiments; 1 SSEP Mission 1 re-flight experiment; and 1 SSEP Mission 2 re-flight experiment (in toto the SSEP5a Falcon I payload)

Mission 3b: launched January 9, 2014, aboard Orb-1, the first operational flight of the Cygnus spacecraft, with 12 (of 17) SSEP Mission 3 experiments; (SSEP5b Falcon II payload)

SSEP Mission 4 to the International Space Station
launched January 9, 2014, aboard Orb-1, the first operational flight of the Cygnus spacecraft, with 11 SSEP Mission 4 experiments (SSEP6 Orion payload)

SSEP Mission 5 to the International Space Station
launched July 13, 2014, aboard Orb-2, with 15 SSEP Mission 5 experiments (SSEP7 Charlie Brown payload)

SSEP Mission 6 to the International Space Station
launched October 28, 2014, aboard Orb-3, with 18 SSEP Mission 6 experiments (SSEP8 Yankee Clipper payload); payload lost on launch failure and subsequent detonation of rocket; 17 of 18 experiments reconstituted as Yankee Clipper II payload (SSEP8b), launched on January 10, 2015, aboard SpaceX-5

SSEP Mission 7 to the International Space Station
launched June 28, 2015, aboard SpaceX-7, with 27 SSEP experiments (SSEP9 Odyssey payload): 24 Mission 7 experiments, 1 re-flight experiment from Mission 6, and 2 re-flight experiments from Mission 5; payload lost on rocket failure approximately 2 minutes after launch; 23 of 24 Mission 7 experiments, and 2 of the 3 re-flight experiments (1 from Mission 5 and 1 from Mission 6), were reconstituted as Odyssey II payload (SSEP9b) and launched April 8, 2016, aboard SpaceX-8.

SSEP Mission 8 to the International Space Station
launched July 18, 2016, aboard SpaceX-9, with 15 SSEP Mission 8 experiments (SSEP10 Kitty Hawk payload)

SSEP Mission 9 to the International Space Station
launched February 19, 2017, aboard SpaceX-10, with 22 SSEP experiments (SSEP11 Endeavor payload): 21 SSEP Mission 9 experiments and 1 re-flight experiment from Mission 7

SSEP Mission 10 to the International Space Station
launched June 3, 2017, aboard SpaceX-11, with 11 SSEP Mission 10 experiments (SSEP12 Casper payload)

SSEP Mission 11 to the International Space Station
launched August 14, 2017, aboard SpaceX-12, with 21 SSEP Mission 11 experiments and 1 SSEP Mission 9 experiment (SSEP13 America payload)

SSEP Mission 12 to the International Space Station
expected launch June 9, 2018 aboard SpaceX-15, with 34 SSEP Mission 12 experiments (SSEP14 Mercury payload)

NEW OPPORTUNITY SSEP Mission 13 to the International Space Station
expected launch Spring 2019 aboard vehicle TBD, with XX SSEP Mission 13 experiments (SSEP15 Gemini payload)

Flight Opportunity Status

SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, and Missions 1 through 9 to ISS have now been completed. Missions 10 and 11 experimental results are to be reported at the 2018 SSEP National Conference. Operations for Mission 12 started in the 31 participating communities in September 2017, with flight experiments selected mid-December 2017. Mission 12 flight experiments are now undergoing Flight Safety Review at the Toxicology Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Gemini payload of Mission 12 experiments is currently projected to launch in June 2018. Mission 13 to ISS was announced on March 9, 2018, with a program start in September 2018. Communities across the U.S. and Canada are invited to participate, see Mission 13 Announcement of Opportunity.

Further Reading

To gauge program impact, you are invited to read the In Our Own Words and the SSEP In the News pages at the separate SSEP Community Network Hubsite. You are also invited to explore the Full SSEP National Blog Archive, which documents the history of the program since inception.

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.