Research Launching to the Space Station Ranges from Radiation Protection to Rover Control

Cygnus departs the International Space Station. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — Supplies and scientific experiments ride to the International Space Station on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft (NG-12) scheduled for launch on Nov. 2. The investigations making the trip range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing fibers for 3D printing. Cygnus lifts off on the Antares rocket from pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island in Virginia.

Resupply missions from U.S. companies ensure NASA’s capability to deliver critical science research to the space station and significantly increase its ability to conduct new investigations in the only laboratory in space. This is the first mission under Northrop’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA.

Here are some of the scientific investigations NG-12 delivers to the space station:

More Probing of Mysteries of the Universe

Stars, planets and the molecules of which they are made represent only less than 5 percent of the mass-energy content of the universe. The rest is dark matter. However, no one has ever seen this material or been able to study it directly. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – 02 (AMS-02) has been looking for evidence of this mysterious substance from the vantage point of the International Space Station since 2011. AMS consists of an international team from 16 countries under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

NG-12 carries components needed for prolonging the operational life of AMS-02. In a series of spacewalks planned for later this year, astronauts will update the instrument, including cutting and reconnecting fluid lines in space for the first time.

Driving a Rover on the Ground from Space

Future missions to the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies are likely to involve landing robotic explorers to “test the waters” on uncharted planets before sending humans. ANALOG-1, part of a European Space Agency initiative, tests communications, operations and control strategies for robots. Previous studies have shown that humans experience degraded sensorimotor functions in microgravity that could affect their operation of a robot. The space station makes it possible to investigate these issues under true microgravity conditions by having crew members in space control a rover on Earth. Maneuvers include selection, collection and storage of geologic samples with a multi-purpose robotic arm and navigating the rover along a defined path.

Testing Personal Protective Equipment for Astronauts

Astronauts need protection from exposure to radiation, especially as they travel to the Moon and Mars. Unpredictable solar particle events, for example, could deliver, in just a few hours, a radiation dose high enough to cause serious health problems. The AstroRad Vest investigation tests a garment that shields specific, radiation-sensitive organs, tissues and stem cell concentrations, which could reduce the risk. Astronauts wear the garment while performing daily tasks and provide feedback such as how easy it is to put on, how it fits and feels, and the range of motion it allows.

3D Printing with Recycled Materials

Braskem recycler (Credit: Made in Space)

Made in Space Recycler (MIS Recycler) tests systems for reprocessing plastic into 3D printing filament for creating new items in microgravity. It recycles polymers into filament for use in the Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3D printer operating on the orbiting laboratory since 2016. The investigation looks at which materials process most effectively into 3D printing filament and which ones can be reprocessed many times without degrading. Researchers plan to analyze samples printed in space after they return to Earth and compare them to samples printed similarly on the ground.

Faster, Cheaper Access to Space

NanoRacks-Craig-X FTP  is a platform for several investigations, including a collaboration between Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute that tests the performance of 3D-printed carbon fiber composites in the extreme environment of space. The materials are designed for use in aerospace applications, but results could replace lengthy and expensive carbon fiber manufacturing methods on Earth. In addition, the study may help improve the design of implantable devices for therapeutic drug delivery developed by Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Dinner, Fresh from the Oven

Zero-G Kitchen (Credit: DoubleTree by Hilton)

Everyone enjoys the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, even astronauts. On future long-duration space missions, fresh-baked food could have psychological and physiological benefits for crew members, providing them with a greater variety of more nutritious meals. Zero-G Oven examines heat transfer properties and the process of baking food in microgravity. It uses a specially-designed toaster-like oven with a top temperature of 363.3 degrees Celsius or 685 degrees Fahrenheit.

Studying the Effect of Dark and Light on Liver Health

Microgravity as a Disruptor Of The 12-hour Circatidal Clock (Rodent Research-14) studies how disruptions to daily light cycles affect human cells and organs. Recent research shows that genes associated with 12-hour light and dark phases, or the 12-hour molecular clock, also are associated with the most common form of human liver disease. Liver disease contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes. The 12-hour clock’s role in controlling proper liver function has major implications for maintaining human health. Results could provide insights into liver disease and reveal new therapies, including pharmaceuticals.

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.