On Wednesday, the SpaceX Dragon that launched April 2 arrived at the International Space Station to deliver more than 5,800 pounds of research investigations, cargo and supplies, including NASA’s Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE). This is the ninth MISSE mission in the program’s long history of testing material samples in space.Also on board was the new MISSE flight facility hardware developed by Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance of Houston. The flight facility holds several new polymers and other material samples from both NASA researchers and commercial organizations.”The long series of MISSE flights leading up to MISSE-9 has been an unparalleled success for on-orbit material science,” said Alpha Space President and CEO Mark Gittleman. “MISSE-9 continues that tradition and also represents a huge step forward in space science in several important ways.”Gittleman explained that the flight facility will remain permanently installed on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.”The mass and cost to launch science experiments and investigations will be reduced to only the incremental mass and cost of launching experiment trays and carriers, rather than an entire facility,” Gittleman said.He also noted that experiments requiring very long exposure can remain in place on the flight facility not just for weeks or months, but for years if required.In addition, Gittleman said, Alpha Space and NASA have entered into a commercialization agreement for the flight facility that reserves a portion of its capacity for NASA samples while leaving the remaining space open for use as a commercial facility.
“This makes space available to all scientists through contracts with Alpha Space,” said Gittleman. “Alpha Space provides turn-key, fixed price integration services that make getting science to the station as simple and inexpensive as possible, and we think that opens up the benefits of space science to a whole new audience.”The material samples currently on the flight facility will remain on the station for one year of testing as part of MISSE-9. This long-duration exposure to the harsh space environment will enable researchers to evaluate the potential performance of their materials in future long-term space applications.NASA’s material samples included on MISSE-9 have a variety of research objectives, including:Testing the Durability of new Polymers
Along with her research partner Larry Thomsen, Sheila Thibeault of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia has patented several new spacecraft materials, including polymer films and fiber laminates for radiation shielding-an important role in protecting both astronauts and expensive equipment from potentially dangerous exposure. MISSE-9 will allow them to test these materials for strength and durability in the space environment.Thibeault noted that testing for a long duration and then having the experiments returned from space is a specific advantage of the MISSE program.