NanoRacks Commercial Research Platforms Activated on the Space Station

Astronaut Shannon Walker activates nanoracks. Image credit: NASA


This July, U.S. Astronaut Shannon Walker activated a fully commercial research facility designed to make access to the International Space Station easy and cost-effective for scientists and educators.

Developed by NanoRacks LLC, of Laguna woods, Calif., the research platforms are designed for use within the pressurized space station environment. Each platform provides room for up to 16 customer payloads to plug effortlessly into a standard USB connector, which provides both power and data connectivity. Its plug and play system uses a simple, standardized interface that reduces payload integration cost and schedule for nano-scale research on the orbiting laboratory.

NanoRacks is working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement awarded from a competitive announcement of opportunity for the use of the National Laboratory on the International Space Station. The funding to build and certify the rack inserts has come exclusively from NanoRacks and their customers.

“As the International Space Station National Lab activities are ramping up to enable full use of the station, partnerships such as this one are an important component of an integrated strategy to enable full utilization,” said Jason Crusan, NASA’s chief technologist for Space Operations. “Lowering the burden to conduct research while demonstrating that hardware can go from concept to on-orbit capability in less than 10 months is also a significant milestone.”

NanoRacks currently has two inserts located in the US Expedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station, or ExPRESS, Rack 4 in the Japanese Experiment Module on the station. Each of NanoRacks’ inserts is approximately 17 x 9 x 20 inches and weighs approximately 12 lbs.

“We seek to significantly lower the bar for those wanting to conduct nano-scale research and technology demonstrations in space,” explained NanoRacks Managing Director Jeffrey Manber. “By using a standardized form factor and a ‘plug and play’ system, we can quickly integrate with NASA’s standard interfaces at the rack level and further reduce costs in order to attract new users to the space station.”

Each customer’s payload must conform to a standard size: approximately 4 x 4 x 4 inches and weigh 2.2 lbs. NanoRacks has already signed multiple customers, including a high school in San Jose, Calif., and a pharmaceutical research project. Currently, there are three experiments operating on the space station. These three university-lead experiments include a passive radiation experiment and two experiments that will study the effects of radiation on electronic data storage systems. These payloads will return to Earth on the STS-133 and STS-134 space shuttle missions, currently scheduled for Nov. 1 and Feb. 26, 2011, respectively.