Category: technology

5 Examples of How Our Satellite Data is Helpin…

We could talk all day about how our satellite data is crucial for Earth science…tracking ocean currents, monitoring natural disasters, soil mapping – the list goes on and on.

But did you know there is another way this data can improve life here on Earth?

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Our satellite data can be used to build businesses and commercial products – but finding and using this data has been a daunting task for many potential users because it’s been stored across dozens of websites.

Until now.

Our Technology Transfer program has just released their solution to make finding data easier, called The NASA Remote Sensing Toolkit (RST).

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RST offers an all-in-one approach to finding and using our Earth Science data, the tools needed to analyze it, and software to build your own tools.  

Before, we had our petabytes on petabytes of information spread out across dozens of websites – not to mention the various software tools needed to interpret the data. 

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Now, RST helps users find everything they need while having only one browser open.

Feeling inspired to innovate with our data? Here are just a few examples of how other companies have taken satellite data and turned it into products, known as NASA spinoffs, that are helping our planet today.

1. Bringing Landscape into Focus

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We have a number of imaging systems for locating fires, but none were capable of identifying small fires or indicating the flames’ intensity. Thanks to a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts between our Ames Research Center and Xiomas Technologies LLC, the Wide Area Imager aerial scanner does just that. While we and the U.S. Forest Service use it for fire detection, the tool is also being used by municipalities for detailed aerial surveillance projects.

2. Monitoring the Nation’s Forests with the Help of Our Satellites

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Have you ever thought about the long-term effects of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, on forest life? How about the big-time damage caused by little pests, like webworms? 

Our Stennis Space Center did, along with multiple forest services and environmental threat assessment centers. They partnered to create an early warning system to identify, characterize, and track disturbances from potential forest threats using our satellite data. The result was ForWarn, which is now being used by federal and state forest and natural resource managers.

3. Informing Forecasts of Crop Growth

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Want to hear a corny story?

Every year Stennis teams up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a program called Ag 20/20 to utilize remote sensing technology for operational use in agricultural crop management practices at the level of individual farms.
During Ag 20/20 in 2000, an engineering contractor developed models for using our satellite data to predict corn crop yield. The model was eventually sold to Genscape Inc., which has commercialized it as LandViewer. Sold under a subscription model, LandViewer software provides predictions of corn production to ethanol plants and grain traders.

4. Water Mapping Technology Rebuilds Lives in Arid Regions

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No joking around here. Lives depend on the ability to find precious water in areas with little of it.  

Using our Landsat satellite and other topographical data, Radar Technologies International developed an algorithm-based software program that can locate underground water sources. Working with international organizations and governments, the firm is helping to provide water for refugees and other people in drought-stricken regions such as Kenya, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

5. Satellite Maps Deliver More Realistic Gaming

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Are you more of the creative type? This last entry used satellite data to help people really get into their gameplay.

When Electronic Arts (EA) decided to make SSX, a snowboarding video game, it faced challenges in creating realistic-looking mountains. The solution was our ASTER Global Digital Elevation Map, made available by our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which EA used to create 28 real-life mountains from 9 different ranges for its award-winning game.

You can browse our Remote Sensing Toolkit at technology.nasa.gov.

Want to know more about future tutorial webinars on RST?

Follow our Technology Transfer Program on twitter @NASAsolutions for the latest updates.

Want to learn more about the products made by NASA technologies? Head over to spinoff.nasa.gov.

Sign up to receive updates about upcoming tutorials HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

Chemical Space Gardens

You know that colorful crystal garden you grew as a kid?

Yeah, we do that in space now. 

Chemical Gardens, a new investigation aboard the International Space Station takes a classic science experiment to space with the hope of improving our understanding of gravity’s impact on their structural formation.

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Here on Earth, chemical gardens are most often used to teach students about things like chemical reactions.

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Chemical gardens form when dissolvable metal salts are placed in an aqueous solution containing anions such as silicate, borate, phosphate, or carbonate.

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Delivered to the space station aboard SpaceX’S CRS-15 cargo mission, the samples for this experiment will be processed by crew members and grown throughout Expedition 56 before returning to Earth.

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Results from this investigation could provide a better understanding of cement science and improvements to biomaterial devices used for scaffolding, for use both in space and on Earth. 

Follow the growth of the chemical garden and the hundreds of other investigations constantly orbiting above you by following @ISS_Research on Twitter.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

6 Fun Facts About Our New Hexapod Robot

Satellites are crucial to everyday life and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to manufacture and launch. Currently, they are simply decommissioned when they run out of fuel. There is a better way, and it centers on satellite servicing, which can make spaceflight more sustainable, affordable, and resilient. Our satellite servicing technologies will open up a new world where fleet managers can call on robotic mechanics to diagnose, maintain and extend the lifespan of their assets.

Our new and unique robot is designed to test robotic satellite servicing capabilities. Standing 10 feet tall and 16 feet wide, the six-legged “hexapod” robot helps engineers perfect technologies before they’re put to use in space.

Here are SIX interesting facts about the hexapod:

1. The hexapod has six degrees of freedom. 

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This essentially means the robot can move in six directions—three translational directions (forward and backward, up and down and left and right), and three rotational directions (roll, pitch and yaw). Because of its wide range of movement, the hexapod mimics the way a satellite moves in zero gravity.

2. It can move up to eight inches per second and can extend up to 13 feet (but usually doesn’t).

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Like most space simulators, the hexapod typically moves slowly at about one inch per second. During tests, it remains positioned about nine feet off the floor to line up with and interact with a robotic servicing arm mounted to an arch nearby. However, the robot can move at speeds up to eight inches per second and extend/reach nearly 13 feet high!

3. The hexapod tests mission elements without humans.

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The hexapod is crucial to testing for our Restore-L project, which will prove a combination of technologies needed to robotically refuel a satellite not originally designed to be refueled in space.

Perhaps the most difficult part of refueling a satellite in space is the autonomous rendezvous and grapple stage. A satellite in need of fuel might be moving 16,500 miles per hour in the darkness of space. A servicer satellite will need to match its speed and approach the client satellite, then grab it. This nail-biting stage needs to be done autonomously by the spacecraft’s systems (no humans controlling operations from the ground).

The hexapod helps us practice this never-before-attempted feat in space-like conditions. Eventually a suite of satellite servicing capabilities could be incorporated in other missions.

4. This type of robot is also used for flight and roller coaster simulators.

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Because of the hexapod’s unparalleled* ability to handle a high load capacity and range of movement, while maintaining a high degree of precision and repeatability, a similar kind of robot is used for flight and roller coaster simulators.

*Pun intended: the hexapod is what is referred to as a parallel motion robot

5. The hexapod was designed and made in the U S of A.

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The hexapod was designed and built by a small, New Hampshire-based company called Mikrolar. Mikrolar designs and produces custom robots that offer a wide range of motion and high degree of precision, for a wide variety of applications.

6. The robot lives at our Goddard Space Flight Center’s Robotic Operations Center.

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The hexapod conducts crucial tests at our Goddard Space Flight Center’s Robotic Operations Center (ROC). The ROC is a 5,000-square-foot facility with 50 feet high ceilings. It acts as an incubator for satellite servicing technologies. Within its black curtain-lined walls, space systems, components and tasks are put to the test in simulated environments, refined and finally declared ready for action in orbit.

The hexapod is not alone in the ROC. Five other robots test satellite servicing capabilities. Engineers use these robots to practice robotic repairs on satellites rendezvousing with objects in space. 

Watch the hexapod in action HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Navigating Space by the Stars

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A sextant is a tool for measuring the angular altitude of a star above the horizon and has helped guide sailors across oceans for centuries. It is now being tested aboard the International Space Station as a potential emergency navigation tool for guiding future spacecraft across the cosmos. The Sextant Navigation investigation will test the use of a hand-held sextant that utilizes star sighting in microgravity. 

Read more about how we’re testing this tool in space!  

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

5 Out-of-This World Technologies Developed for…

Our James Webb Space Telescope is the most ambitious and complex space science observatory ever built. It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.

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In order to carry out such a daring mission, many innovative and powerful new technologies were developed specifically to enable Webb to achieve its primary mission.  

Here are 5 technologies that were developed to help Webb push the boundaries of space exploration and discovery:

1. Microshutters

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Microshutters are basically tiny windows with shutters that each measure 100 by 200 microns, or about the size of a bundle of only a few human hairs. 

The microshutter device will record the spectra of light from distant objects (spectroscopy is simply the science of measuring the intensity of light at different wavelengths. The graphical representations of these measurements are called spectra.)

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Other spectroscopic instruments have flown in space before but none have had the capability to enable high-resolution observation of up to 100 objects simultaneously, which means much more scientific investigating can get done in less time. 

Read more about how the microshutters work HERE.

2. The Backplane

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Webb’s backplane is the large structure that holds and supports the big hexagonal mirrors of the telescope, you can think of it as the telescope’s “spine”. The backplane has an important job as it must carry not only the 6.5 m (over 21 foot) diameter primary mirror plus other telescope optics, but also the entire module of scientific instruments. It also needs to be essentially motionless while the mirrors move to see far into deep space. All told, the backplane carries more than 2400kg (2.5 tons) of hardware.

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This structure is also designed to provide unprecedented thermal stability performance at temperatures colder than -400°F (-240°C). At these temperatures, the backplane was engineered to be steady down to 32 nanometers, which is 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair!

Read more about the backplane HERE.

3. The Mirrors

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One of the Webb Space Telescope’s science goals is to look back through time to when galaxies were first forming. Webb will do this by observing galaxies that are very distant, at over 13 billion light years away from us. To see such far-off and faint objects, Webb needs a large mirror. 

Webb’s scientists and engineers determined that a primary mirror 6.5 meters across is what was needed to measure the light from these distant galaxies. Building a mirror this large is challenging, even for use on the ground. Plus, a mirror this large has never been launched into space before! 

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If the Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.4-meter mirror were scaled to be large enough for Webb, it would be too heavy to launch into orbit. The Webb team had to find new ways to build the mirror so that it would be light enough – only 1/10 of the mass of Hubble’s mirror per unit area – yet very strong. 

Read more about how we designed and created Webb’s unique mirrors HERE.

4. Wavefront Sensing and Control

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Wavefront sensing and control is a technical term used to describe the subsystem that was required to sense and correct any errors in the telescope’s optics. This is especially necessary because all 18 segments have to work together as a single giant mirror.

The work performed on the telescope optics resulted in a NASA tech spinoff for diagnosing eye conditions and accurate mapping of the eye.  This spinoff supports research in cataracts, keratoconus (an eye condition that causes reduced vision), and eye movement – and improvements in the LASIK procedure.

Read more about the tech spinoff HERE

5. Sunshield and Sunshield Coating

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Webb’s primary science comes from infrared light, which is essentially heat energy. To detect the extremely faint heat signals of astronomical objects that are incredibly far away, the telescope itself has to be very cold and stable. This means we not only have to protect Webb from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun and the Earth), but we also have to make all the telescope elements very cold so they don’t emit their own heat energy that could swamp the sensitive instruments. The temperature also must be kept constant so that materials aren’t shrinking and expanding, which would throw off the precise alignment of the optics.

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Each of the five layers of the sunshield is incredibly thin. Despite the thin layers, they will keep the cold side of the telescope at around -400°F (-240°C), while the Sun-facing side will be 185°F (85°C). This means you could actually freeze nitrogen on the cold side (not just liquify it), and almost boil water on the hot side. The sunshield gives the telescope the equivalent protection of a sunscreen with SPF 1 million!

Read more about Webb’s incredible sunshield HERE

Learn more about the Webb Space Telescope and other complex technologies that have been created for the first time by visiting THIS page.

For the latest updates and news on the Webb Space Telescope, follow the mission on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Science Launching to Station Looks Forward and…

Some of the earliest human explorers used mechanical tools called sextants to navigate vast oceans and discover new lands. Today, high-tech tools navigate microscopic DNA to discover previously unidentified organisms. Scientists aboard the International Space Station soon will have both types of tools at their disposal.

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Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch its ninth contracted cargo resupply mission to the space station no earlier than May 21. Sending crucial science, supplies and cargo to the crew of six humans living and working on the orbiting laboratory.

Our Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft, and designers built a sextant into Apollo vehicles as a lost-communications navigation backup. The Sextant Navigation investigation tests use of a hand-held sextant for emergency navigation on missions in deep space as humans begin to travel farther from Earth.

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Jim Lovell (far left) demonstrated on Apollo 8 that sextant navigation could return a space vehicle home. 

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The remoteness and constrained resources of living in space require simple but effective processes and procedures to monitor the presence of microbial life, some of which might be harmful. Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) advances the use of sequencing processes to identify microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect and to assess mutations in the microbial genome that may be due to spaceflight.  

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Genes in Space 3 performed in-flight identification of bacteria on the station for the first time. BEST takes that one step farther, identifying unknown microbial organisms using a process that sequences directly from a sample with minimal preparation, rather than with the traditional technique that requires growing a culture from the sample.

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Adding these new processes to the proven technology opens new avenues for inflight research, such as how microorganisms on the station change or adapt to spaceflight.

The investigation’s sequencing components provide important information on the station’s microbial occupants, including which organisms are present and how they respond to the spaceflight environment – insight that could help protect humans during future space exploration. Knowledge gained from BEST could also provide new ways to monitor the presence of microbes in remote locations on Earth.

Moving on to science at a scale even smaller than a microbe, the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) facility could help answer some big questions in modern physics.

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CAL creates a temperature ten billion (Yup. BILLION) times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless. CAL makes it possible to observe these ultra-cold atoms for much longer in the microgravity environment on the space station than would be possible on the ground.

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Results of this research could potentially lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.

A partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Space Application Services (SpaceAps), The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, uses a sliding framework permanently installed on the space station and “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes.

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The Experiment Cubes are easy to install and remove, come in different sizes and can be built with commercial off-the-shelf components, significantly reducing the cost and time to develop experiments.

ICE Cubes removes barriers that limit access to space, providing more people access to flight opportunities. Potential fields of research range from pharmaceutical development to experiments on stem cells, radiation, and microbiology, fluid sciences, and more.

For daily nerd outs, follow @ISS_Research on Twitter!

Watch the Launch + More!

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What’s On Board Briefing

Join scientists and researchers as they discuss some of the investigations that will be delivered to the station on Saturday, May 19 at 1 p.m. EDT at nasa.gov/live. Have questions? Use #askNASA

CubeSat Facebook Live

The International Space Station is often used to deploy small satellites, a low-cost way to test technology and science techniques in space. On board this time, for deployment later this summer, are three CubeSats that will help us monitor rain and snow, study weather and detect and filter radio frequency interference (RFI). 

Join us on Facebook Live on Saturday, May 19 at 3:30 p.m. EDT on the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility page to hear from experts and ask them your questions about these small satellites. 

Pre-Launch Briefing

Tune in live at nasa.gov/live as mission managers provide an overview and status of launch operations at 11 a.m. EDT on Sunday, May 20. Have questions? Use #askNASA

LIFTOFF!

Live launch coverage will begin on Monday, May 21 4:00 a.m. on NASA Television, nasa.gov/live, Facebook Live, Periscope, Twitch, Ustream and YouTube. Liftoff is slated for 4:39 a.m.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

Meet Our Latest CubeSats

When the next Orbital ATK cargo mission to the International Space Station blasts off from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on May 20 at 5:04 a.m. EDT carrying science and supplies, the Cygnus spacecraft will also be carrying a few of our latest CubeSats.

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The International Space Station is often used to deploy small satellites, a low-cost way to test technology and science techniques in space.

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On board this time, for deployment later this summer, are…

The ‘Rabbit’ in the RainCube

As its name suggests, RainCube will use radar to measure rain and snowfall. CubeSats are measured in increments of 1U (A CubeSat unit, or 1U, is roughly equivalent to a 4-inch box, or 10x10x10 centimeters). The RainCube antenna has to be small enough to be crammed into a 1.5U container; the entire satellite is about as big as a cereal box.

“It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat,” said Nacer Chahat, a specialist in antenna design at our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Shrinking the size of the radar is a challenge for us. As space engineers, we usually have lots of volume, so building antennas packed into a small volume isn’t something we’re trained to do.”

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That small antenna will deploy in space, like an upside-down umbrella. To maintain its small size, the antenna relies on the high-frequency Ka-band wavelength – good for profiling rain and snow. Ka-band also allows for an exponential increase in sending data over long distances, making it the perfect tool for telecommunications.

Peering Into Clouds

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TEMPEST-D will also study weather. Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems – Demonstration (TEMPEST-D) has satellite technology with the potential to measure cloud and precipitation processes on a global basis. These measurements help improve understanding of Earth’s water cycle and weather predictions, particularly conditions inside storms.

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TEMPEST-D millimeter-wave observations have the ability to penetrate into clouds to where precipitation initiation occurs. By measuring the evolution of clouds from the moment of the onset of precipitation, a future TEMPEST constellation mission could improve weather forecasting and improve our understanding of cloud processes, essential to understanding climate change.

Cutting Through the Noise

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CubeRRT, also the size of a cereal box, will space test a small component designed to detect and filter radio frequency interference (RFI). RFI is everywhere, from cellphones, radio and TV transmissions, satellite broadcasts and other sources. You probably recognize it as that annoying static when you can’t seem to get your favorite radio station to come in clearly because another station is nearby on the dial.

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The same interference that causes radio static also affects the quality of data that instruments like microwave radiometers collect. As the number of RFI-causing devices increases globally, our satellite instruments – specifically, microwave radiometers that gather data on soil moisture, meteorology, climate and more – will be more challenged in collecting high-quality data.

That’s where CubeSat Radiometer Radio frequency interference Technology (CubeRRT) comes in. The small satellite will be carrying a new technology to detect and filter any RFI the satellite encounters in real-time from space. This will reduce the amount of data that needs to be transmitted back to Earth – increasing the quality of important weather and climate measurements.

Searching the Halo of the Milky Way

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Did you know that we’re still looking for half of the normal matter that makes up the universe? Scientists have taken a census of all the stars, galaxies and clusters of galaxies — and we’re coming up short, based on what we know about the early days of the cosmos.

That missing matter might be hiding in tendrils of hot gas between galaxies. Or it might be in the halos of hot gas around individual galaxies like our own Milky Way. But if it’s there, why haven’t we seen it? It could be that it’s so hot that it glows in a spectrum of X-rays we haven’t looked at before.

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Image Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies

Enter HaloSat. Led by the University of Iowa, HaloSat will search the halo of the Milky Way for the emissions oxygen gives off at these very high temperatures. Most other X-ray satellites look at narrow patches of the sky and at individual sources. HaloSat will look at large swaths of the sky at a time, which will help us figure out the geometry of the halo — whether it surrounds the galaxy more like a fried egg or a sphere. Knowing the halo’s shape will in turn help us figure out the mass, which may help us discover if the universe’s missing matter is in galactic halos.

CubeSats for All

Small satellites benefit Earth and its people (us!) in multiple ways. From Earth imaging satellites that help meteorologists to predict storm strengths and direction, to satellites that focus on technology demonstrations to help determine what materials function best in a microgravity environment, the science enabled by CubeSats is diverse. 

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They are also a pathway to space science for students. Our CubeSat Launch initiative (CSLI) provides access to space for small satellites developed by our Centers and programs, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Since the program began, more than 50 educational CubeSats have flown. In 2016, students built the first CubeSat deployed into space by an elementary school.

Learn more about CubeSats HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

Why We Celebrate Search and Rescue Technologie…

Today (4/06), we celebrate the special radio frequency transmitted by emergency beacons to the international search and rescue network. 

This 406 MHz frequency, used only for search and rescue, can be “heard” by satellites hundreds of miles above the ground! The satellites then “forward” the location of the beacon back to Earth, helping first responders locate people in distress worldwide, whether from a plane crash, a boating accident or other emergencies.

Our Search and Rescue office, based out of our Goddard Space Flight Center, researches and develops emergency beacon technology, passing the technology to companies who manufacture the beacons, making them available to the public at retail stores. The beacons are designed for personal, maritime and aviation use.

The search and rescue network, Cospas-Sarsat, is an international program that ensures the compatibility of distress alert services with the needs of users. Its current space segment relies on instruments onboard low-Earth and geosynchronous orbiting satellites, hundreds to thousands of miles above us. 

Space instruments forward distress signals to the search and rescue ground segment, which is operated by partner organizations around the world! They manage specific regions of the ground network. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the region containing the United States, which reaches across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as parts of Central and South America.

NOAA notifies organizations that coordinate search and rescue efforts of a 406 MHz distress beacon’s activation and location. Within the U.S., the U.S. Air Force responds to land-based emergencies and the U.S. Coast Guard responds to water-based emergencies. Local public service organizations like police and fire departments, as well as civilian volunteers, serve as first responders.

Here at NASA, we research, design and test search and rescue instruments and beacons to refine the existing network. Aeronautical beacon tests took place at our Langley Research Center in 2015. Using a 240-foot-high structure originally used to test Apollo spacecraft, our Search and Rescue team crashed three planes to test the survivability of these beacons, developing guidelines for manufacturers and installation into aircraft.

In the future, first responders will rely on a new constellation of search and rescue instruments on GPS systems on satellites in medium-Earth orbit, not hundreds, but THOUSANDS of miles overhead. These new instruments will enable the search and rescue network to locate a distress signal more quickly than the current system and achieve accuracy an order of magnitude better, from a half mile to approximately 300 feet. Our Search and Rescue office is developing second-generation 406 MHz beacons that make full use of this new system.

We will also incorporate these second-generation beacons into the Orion Crew Survival System. The Advanced Next-Generation Emergency Locator (ANGEL) beacons will be attached to astronaut life preservers. After splashdown, if the Orion crew exits the capsule due to an emergency, these beacons will make sure we know the exact location of floating astronauts! Our Johnson Space Center is testing this technology for used in future human spaceflight and exploration missions.

If you’re the owner of an emergency beacon, remember that beacon registration is free, easy and required by law. 

To register your beacon, visit: beaconregistration.noaa.gov

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Science-Heavy SpaceX Dragon Headed to Space St…

Heads up: a new batch of science is headed to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon on April 2, 2018. Launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket, this fire breathing (well, kinda…) spacecraft will deliver science that studies thunderstorms on Earth, space gardening, potential pathogens in space, new ways to patch up wounds and more.

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Let’s break down some of that super cool science heading 250 miles above Earth to the orbiting laboratory:

Sprites and Elves in Space

Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment will survey severe thunderstorms in Earth’s atmosphere and upper-atmospheric lightning, or transient luminous events. 

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These include sprites, flashes caused by electrical break-down in the mesosphere; the blue jet, a discharge from cloud tops upward into the stratosphere; and ELVES, concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse in the ionosphere.

Here’s a graphic showing the layers of the atmosphere for reference:

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Metal Powder Fabrication

Our Sample Cartridge Assembly (MSL SCA-GEDS-German) experiment will determine underlying scientific principles for a fabrication process known as liquid phase sintering, in microgravity and Earth-gravity conditions.

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Science term of the day: Liquid phase sintering works like building a sandcastle with just-wet-enough sand; heating a powder forms interparticle bonds and formation of a liquid phase accelerates this solidification, creating a rigid structure. But in microgravity, settling of powder grains does not occur and larger pores form, creating more porous and distorted samples than Earth-based sintering. 

Sintering has many applications on Earth, including metal cutting tools, automotive engine connecting rods, and self-lubricating bearings. It has potential as a way to perform in-space fabrication and repair, such as building structures on the moon or creating replacement parts during extraterrestrial exploration.

Plants in space! It’s l[a]unch time!

Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating reliable vegetable production in space represent important steps toward the goal of growing food for future long-duration missions. The Veggie Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (Veggie PONDS) experiment will test a passive nutrient delivery system in the station’s Veggie plant growth facility by cultivating lettuce and mizuna greens for harvest and consumption on orbit.

The PONDS design features low mass and low maintenance, requires no additional energy, and interfaces with the Veggie hardware, accommodating a variety of plant types and growth media.

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Quick Science Tip: Download the Plant Growth App to grow your own veggies in space! Apple users can download the app HERE! Android users click HERE!

Testing Materials in Space

The Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) experiment will provide a unique platform for testing how materials, coatings and components react in the harsh environment of space.

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A continuation of a previous experiment, this version’s new design eliminates the need for astronauts to perform spacewalks for these investigations. New technology includes power and data collection options and the ability to take pictures of each sample on a monthly basis, or more often if required. The testing benefits a variety of industries, including automotive, aeronautics, energy, space, and transportation.

Patching up Wounds

NanoRacks Module 74 Wound Healing (Wound Healing) experiment will test a patch containing an antimicrobial hydrogel that promotes healing of a wound while acting as a foundation for regenerating tissue. Reduced fluid motion in microgravity allows more precise analysis of the hydrogel behavior and controlled release of the antibiotic from the patch.

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For the first part of the experiment, the hydrogels will be assembled aboard the station and returned to Earth for analysis of mechanical and structural properties. The second part of the experiment assembles additional hydrogels loaded with an antibiotic. Crew members will collect real-time data on release of antibiotics from these gels into surrounding water during spaceflight. This patch could serve as a non-surgical treatment for military combat wounds and reduce sepsis, or systemic inflammation, usually caused by contamination of an open wound.

Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for your daily dose of nerdy, spacey goodness.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

SpaceX Dragon breathes Astronomical Amounts of…

SpaceX is helping the crew members aboard the International Space Station get down and nerdy as they launch their Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit for the 13th commercial resupply mission, targeted for Dec. 15 from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

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This super science-heavy flight will deliver experiments and equipment that will study phenomena on the Sun, materials in microgravity, space junk and more. 

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Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered to the station:

ZBLAN Fiber Optics Tested in Space!

The Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity (Made in Space Fiber Optics) experiment demonstrates the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. This investigation will attempt to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass.

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When ZBLAN is solidified on Earth, its atomic structure tends to form into crystals. Research indicates that ZBLAN fiber pulled in microgravity may not crystalize as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fiber optic wire. 

Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor is Totally Teaching us About Earth’s Climate

The Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS, monitors both total solar irradiance and solar spectral irradiance, measurements that represent one of the longest space-observed climate records. Solar irradiance is the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth. This means looking at the Sun in ways very similar to how we observe stars rather than as an image with details that our eye can resolve.

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Understanding the variability and magnitude of solar irradiance is essential to understanding Earth’s climate.  

Sensor Monitors Space Station Environment for Space Junk

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) will directly measure the orbital debris environment around the space station for two to three years.

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Above, see documentation of a Micro Meteor Orbital Debris strike on one of the window’s within the space station’s Cupola. 

Research from this investigation could help lower the risk to human life and critical hardware by orbital debris.

Self-Assembling and Self-Replicating Materials in Space!

Future space exploration may utilize self-assembly and self-replication to make materials and devices that can repair themselves on long duration missions. 

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The Advanced Colloids Experiment- Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7) investigation involves the design and assembly of 3D structures from small particles suspended in a fluid medium. 

Melting Plastics in Microgravity

The Transparent Alloys project seeks to improve the understanding of the melting and solidification processes in plastics in microgravity. Five investigations will be conducted as a part of the Transparent Alloys project.

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These European Space Agency (ESA) investigations will allow researchers to study this phenomena in the microgravity environment, where natural convection will not impact the results.  

Studying Slime (or…Algae, at Least) on the Space Station

Arthrospira B, an ESA investigation, will examine the form, structure and physiology of the Arthrospira sp. algae in order to determine the reliability of the organism for future spacecraft biological life support systems.

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The development of these kinds of regenerative life support systems for spaceflight could also be applied to remote locations on Earth where sustainability of materials is important. 

Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for more space science and watch the launch live on Dec. 15 at 10:36 a.m. EDT HERE!

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