As Space-X continues to push rocket technology to new heights, what opportunities open up for students, NASA and their CubeSats?
ANNOUNCER: Space-X 3, the latest commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. As Space-X continues to push rocket technology to new heights, what opportunities open up for students, NASA and their CubeSats? How will experiments conducted on station help NASA understand the complexities of living in space? Find out next on NASA EDGE.
FRANKLIN: We’re finally back here at the Kennedy Space Center for another live show. You’re watching NASA EDGE after a brief delay, a brief delay.
CHRIS: A month.
BLAIR: A brief month.
FRANKLIN: Here on April 14th, SpaceX-3, the resupply mission to the ISS and the launch of the ELaNa V CubeSat is finally going to get underway.
FRANKLIN: Welcome to the best SpaceX-3 scrubbed launch show.
CHRIS: This was the third attempt at the time when we were doing the live show. The first time attempt, we went down. We did the prepackaged interviews and it was scrubbed before we even got to the press site. The second attempt happened before we went down to KSC. So, you figure the third time’s the charm. In the middle of the live show, 20 minutes in, scrubbed again.
FRANKLIN: I was right in the middle of the interview when I got word that the launch was scrubbed. We had all the SMEs. We had all the students from the CubeSats there. So we actually shot everything as if the show were going on, and the launch was going to be live. We got all of that material and we have it today for the “Best of Show.”
CHRIS: Because we knew on the 18th that the weather was only a 40% chance of favorable conditions. We said, let’s go ahead and get those interviews while we have them there.
FRANKLIN: Yeah, because if we had come back down there, we wouldn’t have the SMEs. We wouldn’t have the students.
CHRIS: That’s right.
FRANKLIN: Fortunately, we got all that material which is why we’re here today for the “Best of” The SpaceX-3 Launch Show.
CHRIS: So, sit back and enjoy the show.
BLAIR: Today, we have a big emphasis on Science, on the life sciences in particular, with all the experiments that are launching. I just wondered what is NASA’s overall philosophy and goals in terms of using things like the International Space Station to promote these scientific experiments?
DEBORAH: NASA’s overall goal is to really exercise the microgravity environment on Station to its full potential in the physical science areas, in the life science areas, to benefit earth science, to benefit humans, and to benefit long duration space flights.
BLAIR: It’s got to be very interesting or at least unique to have such a big platform up in space where there is zero gravity. Is there a lot of competition for these experiments, for these slots to actually get up into space and test some of these theories?
DEBORAH: There is some competition for the slots. They are primarily responses to NASA Research Announcements. They’re awarded grants for their ability to get better research in microgravity conditions.
BLAIR: That means it’s not just NASA scientists sending experiments up. These are scientists even outside of NASA perhaps all over the country. Is that correct?
DEBORAH: All over the country. They primarily focus on research announcements that are responsive to the Decadal Survey and evaluation for the next decade on what science is relevant for Station; what science is relevant for space, and where we would get the most benefit for doing space research.
BLAIR: What does NASA benefit from opening the door, so to speak, to all these scientific experiments?
DEBORAH: We hope NASA is on the leading edge of some major break throughs to benefit here on Earth as well as for long duration space flights. The more we learn and the more we expand, the more we help ourselves through even side ideas.
BLAIR: You also mean there might be some benefit beyond just what happens in space.
DEBORAH: The spinoffs. Just the activity to get to space, to operate and to learn, we have lots of benefits here on Earth.
BLAIR: One of the great benefits is all this data that’s collected. It’s not just for NASA. You’re willing to share that data. How does that work?
DEBORAH: We are on the brink of trying to open up the data that investigators identify and open source it, so it’s available for years to come for future research science not just for specific science application or investigation today.
BLAIR: Any chance that I could submit an experiment, like an old science project, and get that onto the Space Station?
DEBORAH: There’s a chance. There’s a chance if that research is hypothesis driven. It is peer reviewed and then awarded grants to enable it to research on orbit.
BLAIR: But in all fairness, you mean scientific peers, not just my personal peers.
DEBORAH: That’s true.
BLAIR: I tell you what; we’re very excited to learn all about these experiments. We’re going to do that. In fact, when we were here a month ago getting ready for the first attempt at launch, Franklin had an opportunity to interview Trent Smith about a couple of these experiments.
FRANKLIN: We’re here at the Space Station Processing Facility where most of the experiments going to the ISS are ready. Today, we’re here with Trent Smith, who is the Project Manager for VEGGIE. Trent, you’re going to talk to us about a couple of experiments going to the ISS on this upcoming launch.
TRENT: Yes, sir.
FRANKLIN: Tell us a little bit about VEGGIE.
TRENT: VEGGIE is a facility that is flying up on SpaceX-3. The whole idea behind VEGGIE is it’s a low power, passive system to grow large plants. Until now, we’ve not grown large crop type of plants on Space Station. The intent of VEGGIE is to allow astronauts care for plants, kind of like a garden, and goal of VEGGIE is to allow astronauts to grow a little bit of food and eat some fresh food.
FRANKLIN: How does this apparatus work?
TRENT: You have the LED light cap which has red light, which plants need. It has green lights really for the astronauts because when they’re looking at their plants, the first thing you see is the plant you’re going to eat. If it doesn’t look appetizing, chances are they won’t want to eat it. The green light is really for the astronaut. You have the LEDs to give the plants the light they need. You have these pillows for the roots to grow down into, the plant to grow up out of. Below the pillows is what we call the root mat. It has additional moisture and nutrient content for the plant.
FRANKLIN: How do the astronauts get water into the VEGGIE system?
TRENT: We have a water bag and have a three-way valve with the tubing. They use the syringe to pull the water into the syringe then they’ll actuate the valve, deploy the plunger and put the water in either the root mat or the pillow. The water gets in there. It has a time-released fertilizer. The wicking material allows the media to come up to the seed. The seed germinates; the roots go down; plant goes up. Hopefully you’ve got some happy lettuce.
FRANKLIN: Okay. While the plants are growing on the ISS, you’re also going to be growing plants here.
TRENT: Right. Here at Kennedy Space Center we have our chambers which match exactly the perimeters on board Space Station. The Space Station has a variable carbon dioxide level that ranges between 3,000 & 4,000 parts per million. That’s pretty high. A lot of plants like that some plants don’t. What we do is match that to make sure the only variable that changes is gravity. That’s the value of comparing a ground study to an on-orbit study.
FRANKLIN: VEGGIE is a very interesting experiment but you’re also working with another one called APEX. Tell us a little bit about it.
TRENT: Right. Our project manager here at NASA for that is Jose Camacho and our principal investigator is Dr. Hammond. Dr. Hammond is using yeast as his model organism to investigate microgravity effects. He’s using a facility aboard Space Station built by a company called NanoRacks. NanoRacks has this plate reader on orbit and we also have plate readers here at Kennedy Space Center for our ground controls. He’s using yeast as a model organism because it’s very similar to human cells. He has fluorescent bio tags in it. As the yeast go through their metabolic pathways these biomarkers will turn off and on and give them a tremendous amount of data about what’s going on. He has a clinostat here at Kennedy to also confuse the gravity for the organism by spinning.
FRANKLIN: So, the clinostat is actually going to spin to kind of disorient…
TRENT: The G-vector.
FRANKLIN: The G-vector of the yeast.
FRANKLIN: So, it doesn’t know which way is up.
TRENT: Yes, sir.
FRANKLIN: Make it think it’s in space.
TRENT: It just doesn’t know which way the “G” is. Between where you know the G-vector and the other ground control where the G-vector is confused and then in microgravity where there is no G-vector. He’s going to get a tremendous amount of data in understanding these metabolic paths in yeast have implications to humans if there’s a disease or symptom that has a similar metabolic pathway. One could conceivably craft a drug or chemical to help with that symptom or disease.
FRANKLIN: Why do we do these types of tests?
TRENT: We do these types of tests because at the end of the day if we’re going to go out into the solar system, think of VEGGIE. We’re going to need to eat food. In many cases we think we’re going to have a bio regenerative system that involves in some capacity plants. We could have gray water that the plants could clean and use. We’re going to have all these closed systems that we’re going to have to refine. Space Station is a perfect test bed for these types technologies so we can go out to Mars and these other destinations.
BLAIR: Dave, we’re talking about BRIC…house, an experiment that’s going up on the ISS. Tell us, what exactly is BRIC…house?
DAVID: The BRIC stands for Biological Research in Canisters. It’s a research platform that researchers can fly their experiments into space. Typically, we fly bacteria and plant samples up to perform experiments.
BLAIR: How does it actually do the science that you put in it?
DAVID: It’s a fairly small container compared to most experiments on the Station. This small little polycarbonate block allows us to take the samples from the scientists, put them in petri dishes, insert that petri dish into six, what we call petri dish fixation units which we then load with either a growth solution or a fixative solution. If we want something to grow we inject the growth solution. If we want to stop all of the biological processes, then we inject the fixative solution but that all happens on orbit. We usually have a compliment of four BRIC canisters that fly up. They’ll spend however much time is dedicated to growth and then the astronaut basically takes a small caulking gun, and we have a metal rod that we insert in it. The astronauts will insert that rod into the petri dish fixation unit that forces the piston down that drives that fluid into the petri dish itself. It keeps them separated from the biological specimens inside. Once that happens, the experiment is generally completed. Once completed, they go into storage or get ready for flight back.
BLAIR: Do the astronauts use the gun for anything else like caulking potential leaks in the ISS or anything like that?
DAVID: Uh, no. They can’t use it for that. We recently devised a plan that if that actuator tool, is what we call it, does fail, we have gone through an exercise where we’re going to have the astronauts get a hammer to perform that function for us.
BLAIR: What cannot be fixed by a hammer?
DAVID: Everything can be fixed by a hammer, usually.
CHRIS: Ralph, we have one more science experiment to talk about. That’s Biotube. I think we’re saving the best for last.
RALPH: Yes, you are.
CHRIS: Tell me a little bit about Biotube.
RALPH: Biotube is an experiment that is flying to the International Space Station that’s basically designed to study the gravity response system of plants.
CHRIS: How are we actually going to do that in a reduced gravity environment?
RALPH: We actually in affect substitute a gravitational field for magnetic field. We actually fly as a part of this experiment powerful magnets that these seeds are grown in the presence of magnetic fields. Inside the plant roots we have these structures called amyloplasts. Amyloplasts are attracted by gravity. There are starch grains in them that tend to move the amyloplasts in the direction of root growth, which is toward gravity. However, in zero gravity or microgravity, without that field and in the presence of magnetic field. The magnetic field works the opposite effect. The starch grains inside these amyloplasts are diamagnetic. So, they’re repelled by a magnetic field. In this case, we’re going to see our roots when they get exposed to the magnetic field move away from the direction of the field.
CHRIS: I understand we have a tight deadline for this particular experiment.
RALPH: Yes, we do. This payload was really a Legacy payload as we refer to them, designed for the Shuttle here. The whole content of the experiment was meant to fly on one Shuttle mission, which was basically about 3 weeks or so. What we’ve got here is a case of biology that has a certain life span. These seeds are viable for a certain period of time. We have chemicals that are designed to fix or preserve them that have a certain span of effectivity. We have to get the whole experiment to fly within about a month, which means we have to go late load installation on SpaceX. We couldn’t install it very early on. And we have to get the biology back to our labs as soon as possible after the mission. Right now we’ve been working very hard to organize our payload and our experiment to be able to do that in the term that we have for SpaceX.
FRANKLIN: That was just a few segments from the science portion or the show. Coming up next, we have some interviews from the ELaNa V mission, starting off with an interview that I did with Scott Higginbotham followed up by some students and their CubeSats.
CHRIS: Remember, this is the “Best Of.” If you want to watch the complete show, the hour and 30 long or pseudo live portion, go to our UStream account, www.ustream.tv/nasaedge
FRANKLIN: I’m here today with Scott Higginbotham, who is the mission manager for ELaNa V. ELaNa, the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites V.
SCOTT: Yes, indeed.
FRANKLIN: Scott, tell me a little bit about your job as a mission manager and what you do.
SCOTT: Well, I help find rides for CubeSats into space. For this particular mission, we worked with the International Space Station program and SpaceX to take advantage of some excess performance that the Falcon 9 rocket has and squeeze some peapods on the mission so we could deploy some CubeSats while the Dragon goes off to the Station.
FRANKLIN: I understand on the last CubeSat deployment the deployers were different then they are today with the Falcon 9. Why do they change from space vehicle to space vehicle?
SCOTT: Each rocket is a little different and the environments they present to the dispensers and the CubeSats are a little different. For this case, we had to actually help design an interface between the dispensers and the rocket. We had a contract with SpaceX and they designed what we call the surfboards. There are two surfboards on the bottom of the second stage. That’s where we’ve mounted the four P-Pods that we’re flying on today’s mission.
FRANKLIN: When will that deployment take place? Will it take place once the capsule gets to orbit, after it docks with the ISS? When in the mission will this deployment take place?
SCOTT: Well, the rocket will lift off and the first stage will drop off. Of course, as we’ve all heard it’s going to try to land in the ocean in a controlled entry. The second stage will proceed on up into orbit. Once it gets into orbit, the Dragon will separate and it will then fly on its own up to the Space Station. We’ll be in orbit below the Space Station, at 325 km. At that point, the second stage will do a little evasive maneuver to get a little bit away from the Dragon. It will turn around backwards, and at that point, it will start deploying the CubeSats. That’s about 10 minutes into the mission. We’ll start deploying the CubeSats on 3-minute intervals. We’ll do one P-Pod, then the next, and the next, 3 minutes apart till they’re all separate.
FRANKLIN: How many P-Pods total are on this mission?
SCOTT: We have four P-Pods flying on the mission with five CubeSats. They should all be gone within about 16 minutes or so of launch.
FRANKLIN: After the deployment of the P-Pods, is your job over?
SCOTT: No, the job is never over because there are other CubeSats to go launch. We’ll move onto the next mission. At that point, my job is really over but for the CubeSat teams, their job just begins. Now, they get to operate their spacecraft on orbit until they reenter. We have a large backlog of CubeSats that we’re trying to find rides for, so I’ll move on to the next one.
BLAIR: We want to find out about these CubeSats. Gabrielle, I just wanted to ask you, All-Star/Theia, is that right?
GABRIELLE: Yeah, that’s correct.
BLAIR: Could you tell me a little bit about what All-Star/Theia is?
GABRIELLE: All-Star/Theia is a 3U CubeSat, which means it measures about 10x10x30 cm. The goal of All-Star is to be a modular CubeSat bus, which means it provides the fundamental operations necessary for a satellite, like communications, attitude determination, and power. The other half of the CubeSat is reserved for a science payload. You can really plug and play with different payloads.
BLAIR: Okay, then is Theia your payload for this?
GABRIELLE: Yes, Theia is an optical imaging telescope. It’s basically a 5-megapixel camera that we’re going to point at the Earth and take pictures with. It will prove out all the systems on the All-Star bus.
BLAIR: Do you have potential targets you’re looking at with these photos?
GABRIELLE: We’re trying to look at mostly major landmarks; pick out rivers or items that are really easy to identify on a map. It is mostly a technology demonstration for this first one but with future payloads we hope to refine the design. It has a lot of potential, I think.
BLAIR: Matt, your CubeSat is T-Sat, correct?
MATT: Uh huh.
BLAIR: And you’re from Taylor University.
BLAIR: Tell us a little bit about T-Sat and what you’re trying to accomplish.
MATT: Well, it’s three primary objectives. The first one is to test the Global Star communication network. We’re going to be mapping out the coverage of it while most satellites you get very limited coverage because you have ground stations you fly over maybe twice a day. With Global Star, we’ll be able to get almost real time feeds because we’re communicating to a satellite network.
BLAIR: You’re basically avoiding the whole ground station challenge.
MATT: Hmm, very convenient, obviously very helpful to everyone down the road.
BLAIR: How long will T-Sat be traveling? Obviously it’s a complex test but how long will you be maintaining this communication across satellites.
MATT: It will be 6 to 8 weeks. It will be orbiting from about 320 km down to 100 over the course of that time, then it will finally burn up.
BLAIR: Is this the first satellite for you guys or is this a long-term project? What’s the history of this project?
MATT: It’s the first satellite to be launched. It has heritage from as far back as 2001 from TU-Sat1, TU-Sat2, Test-Sat. We’ve been working on these designs and perfecting them for quite some time. We don’t owe all of our success just to ourselves but to a long line of people who have been contributing.
BLAIR: All-Star/Theia, is that a first for your school or have you guys done other CubeSats as well?
GABRIELLE: Yeah, we actually were part of the ELaNa I program with our first CubeSat, Hermes. It was just a 1U. I worked as part of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium at the university. They’ve actually done several satellites before now. The last major satellite was the DANDE that just launched in the fall. It had a lot of successes over the course of its mission.
CHRIS: I’m with Zach Manchester, the founder of KickSat, which is probably the most unique CubeSat being launched on this Falcon 9 today. Tell me a little bit about KickSat.
ZACHARY: KickSat is sort of a mother ship we built. It’s a 3U CubeSat, so 10x10x30 cm, about the size of a loaf of bread. Aside from the usual CubeSat stuff, it has a deployer in it for about 100 of our ChipSats which we call Sprites also. These are tiny 3½ x 3½ cm, about 5-gram satellites. These are the world’s smallest spacecraft.
CHRIS: That’s incredible. Is it a deployer within a deployer? So, your CubeSat is in the PPod, which deploys.
ZACHARY: That’s right. Yeah.
CHRIS: And now you have a deployer of your own too.
ZACHARY: That’s exactly right. It’s kind of a nested, Russian doll kind of set up, I guess.
CHRIS: Now, the cool thing that I am attracted to about this particular CubeSat is the fact that you actually started this program on Kickstarter.
ZACHARY: That’s right. A couple of years ago, I called for proposals for NASA’s ELaNa program. We saw that and wanted to go for it. We had developed this ChipSat technology to a point where we felt we really had to fly it in space to take that next step and advance it to the next level. ELaNa came around and it looked like a great opportunity. We really wanted to go for it. Unfortunately, we still needed some money to actually build the space hardware. This was right around when Kickstarter was new and getting a lot of press. I heard about it and looked into it a little bit. It looked like a great way to go. It looked like something we might be able to do. It might work out. I, basically, applied for the ELaNa launch and then put our project up on Kickstarter right about the same time. We were very fortunate that both panned out. That’s why I’m sitting here.
FRANKLIN: Well, that concludes the “Subject Matter Expert” portion of our “Best of Show,” which leads us to the reason we were actually at the Kennedy Space Center.
CHRIS: To actually see the launch that should have taken place on the 14th but didn’t.
ANNOUNCER: Everything is go.
FRANKLIN: You can see right now that the SpaceX-3 is on the Launchpad. It went off without a hitch. We got confirmation that after the launch the CubeSats were successfully deployed. And overall, from right now, from what we can see that launch overall has been a success.
ANNOUNCER: 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. And liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon. SpaceX-3 is underway. An American commercial spacecraft launching from US soil makes a special delivery of new science and technology to the International Space Station.
CHRIS: We heard from PhoneSat & KickSat. We had a buddy of ours, Justin Folley, who is somewhere in the Midwest tracking the CubeSats. He got confirmation from KickSat & PhoneSat.
FRANKLIN: What about the Falcon 9 lower-stage?
CHRIS: Right. They were testing that first stage. At some point they want to retrieve that first stage and actually it will land on dry land. That’s a pretty cool technology.
FRANKLIN: Well Chris, that concludes our “Best of SpaceX-3 Launch Show.” You’re watching NASA EDGE.
CHRIS: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.
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