Cygnus to Carry Recycling System, Virtual Reality, Simulated Stardust and More Headed to ISS

The Cygnus cargo craft slowly departs the space station after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply flight 10 (CRS-10) is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in mid-November. The craft’s cargo includes several tons of crew supplies and science experiments ranging from 3D printing and recycling to simulating the creation of celestial bodies from stardust.

Read more about some of the science NG CRS-10 delivers to the space station:

3D printing and recycling

The Refabricator flight hardware as it appears when installed in the EXPRESS Rack on the space station. (Credits: NASA)

Refabricator demonstrates an integrated 3D printer and recycler for the first time aboard the space station. It recycles waste plastic materials into high-quality 3D-printer filament, which could enable sustainable fabrication, repair, and recycling on long-duration space missions. The recycling capability eliminates the need for carrying a large supply of feedstock. Current challenges of this type of 3D printing include quality control and consistency of feedstock material.

The investigation, sponsored by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Office, represents a key component of its In-Space Manufacturing (ISM) technology development roadmap.

Sensory Input in Microgravity

Image astronauts see in a virtual reality headset from one of the tests to estimate distance as part of the VECTION experiment. (Credits: NASA)

Changes in sensory input in microgravity may be misinterpreted and cause a person to make errors in estimation of velocity, distance or orientation. VECTION examines this effect as well as whether people adapt to altered sensory input on long-duration missions and how that adaptation changes upon return to Earth. Using a virtual reality display, astronauts estimate the distance to an object, length of an object and orientation of their bodies in space. Tests are conducted before, during and after flight. The investigation is named for a visual illusion of self-movement, called vection, which occurs when an individual is still but sees the world moving past, according to principal investigator Laurence Harris. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) sponsors the investigation.

Solidifying Cement in Space

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst works on earlier research on the cement hardening process in space. (Credits: NASA)

The MVP-Cell 05 investigation uses a centrifuge to provide a variable gravity environment to study the complex process of cement solidification, a step toward eventually making and using concrete on extraterrestrial bodies. These tests are a follow-on to the previous studies known as Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), which studied cement solidification in microgravity.  Together, these tests will help engineers better understand the microstructure and material properties of cement, leading to design of safer, lightweight space habitats and improving cement processing techniques on Earth. This investigation is sponsored by NASA.

From Stardust to Solar Systems

Sample chamber for the EXCISS investigation. Tiny dust particles float free in the chamber before electrodes produce an electrical discharge to examine how this causes particles to aggregate. (Credits: Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany)

Much of the universe was created when dust from star-based processes clumped into intermediate-sized particles and eventually became planets, moons and other objects. Many questions remain as to just how this worked, though. The EXCISS investigation seeks answers by simulating the high-energy, low gravity conditions that were present during formation of the early solar system. Scientists plan to zap a specially formulated dust with an electrical current, then study the shape and texture of pellets formed.

Principal investigator Tamara Koch explains that the dust is made up of particles of forsterite (Mg2SiO4), the main mineral in many meteorites and related to olivine, also known as the gemstone peridot. The particles are about the diameter of a human hair. The ISS National Lab sponsors the EXCISS investigation.

Growing Crystals to Fight Parkinson’s Disease

Drew Feustel, Expedition 56 Commander, filling Protein Crystal Growth (PCG) Card wells for a recent PCG experiment. (Credits: NASA)

The CASIS PCG-16 investigation grows large crystals of an important protein, Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, or LRRK2, in microgravity for analysis back on Earth. This protein is implicated in development of Parkinson’s disease, and defining its shape and morphology may help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and develop therapies to treat it. Crystals of LRRK2 grown in gravity are too small and too compact to study, making microgravity an essential part of this research.

Better Gas Separation Membranes

Membranes represent one of the most energy-efficient and cost-effective technologies for separating and removing carbon dioxide from waste gases, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CEMSICA tests membranes made from particles of calcium-silicate (C-S) with pores 100 nanometers or smaller. Producing these membranes in microgravity may resolve some of the challenges of their manufacture on Earth and lead to development of lower-cost, more durable membranes that use less energy. The technology ultimately may help reduce the harmful effects of CO2 emissions on the planet.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently happening aboard the orbiting laboratory. For daily updates, follow @ISS_ResearchSpace Station Research and Technology News or our Facebook. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station.

  • therealdmt

    A lot of exciting stuff there. I’ll be particularly interested in following the progress of the Refabricator and, on a more pure science level, EXCISS

  • windbourne

    Somebody suggested the other day that we need clothes and dish washers on the ISS. I would also like to see a shower, perhaps new toilet design, etc.
    I am surprised that with multiple space stations coming that NASA is not pushing development of these items.

  • duheagle

    That was probably me. I have certainly suggested more than once in the past that NASA would be far better off recruiting Maytag as an ISS research partner than, say, Anheuser-Busch.

  • windbourne

    Uf so, u were spot on with that. And if we are going to leave leo, we will need to longer throw clothes away. Reusable dishes become important. Along with better toilets and showers ( too complex ).