Materials Experiments Home for Analysis
It's been a decade since the first Materials International Space Station Experiment, or MISSE, was deployed on the International Space Station. Since that time, the space station has been fully assembled and more than 4,000 materials samples have been exposed to space as part of the MISSE series of experiments.
The STS-134 mission, which launched in May, brought MISSE-7A and -7B home. The MISSE-7
experiments had been soaking up the space environment since they were delivered to the station during STS-129 in November 2009. Researchers recently gathered at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where MISSE-7B was disassembled. Those researchers are anxious to see how 18 months in space has affected their materials experiments.
MISSE-7 included more than 700 new and affordable materials samples that could have potential use in advanced reusable launch systems and advanced spacecraft systems including solar cells, optics, sensors, electronics, power, coatings, structural materials and protection for the next generation of spacecraft. The development of the next generation of materials and material technologies able to withstand the harsh environment of space is essential to missions beyond low-Earth orbit.
Marshall Center engineer Miria Finckenor, a MISSE investigator, has been conducting ground tests of thermal control coatings and thermal protection materials in Marshall's Atomic Oxygen Beam Facility. "Many of these materials have only been exposed to simulations of the space environment," said Finckenor. "Having real flight data not only gives confidence in the durability of these materials on-orbit, but also helps improve our models and ground testing."
Another small lead-free experiment on MISSE-7B will provide data on the reliability of lead-free electronics technology in the extreme environments of space. The Lead-Free Technology in Space Environment, or LTESE, flight package is one small, active box weighing less than a pound and containing nearly 4,400 test solder joints whose performance will be compared to an identical unit operating in parallel on the ground.
Other investigators represent NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Naval Research Laboratory in Washington; Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Boeing Research & Technology in Seattle; Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif.; Cornerstone Research Group in Dayton, Ohio; the University of Florida in Gainesville; and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. These investigators had materials experiments attached to MISSE-7B and will further analyze them in their laboratories. Huntsville businesses AZ Technology and Nexolve Corporation also had samples aboard.
Chip Frohlich, manager of metallic materials at Boeing Research & Technology, is extremely proud of the performance of MISSE-7. "This MISSE mission, like previous ones, has allowed researchers from industry, government and academia to fly experiments in a low-Earth orbit environment," said Frohlich. "We look forward to the analysis phase for MISSE-7 so we can see the full detail of how the experiments performed, and how we can apply lessons learned to future space design."
The first six MISSE flight experiments, at a cost of $20 million, have benefited NASA more than $600 million in cost savings and cost avoidance, including two spacewalks. One of the spacewalks was avoided during a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, since data from MISSE showed that some of the multilayer insulation did not need to be replaced and was not a concern for the telescope. "By not having to make time for that spacewalk and all the training that would have required, astronauts were able to fix other things on Hubble," added Finckenor.
MISSE-8, filled with the next series of materials experiments, launched to space aboard STS-134 in May. It was attached to the outside of the space station where it will remain for more than a year.
by Lori Meggs
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center