(Highlights: Week of August 11, 2014) - The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) played prominently in two investigations on the International Space Station this week.
NASA astronaut Steve Swanson began mapping the Japanese Experiment Module as part of the Smartphone-MM investigation this week on the space station. Smartphone MM takes advantage of smartphone technology and the SPHERES autonomous navigation satellites' capabilities to demonstrate remote operations of robots flying 230 miles above Earth. The experiment evaluates the capability of consumer electronics to perform vision-based navigation and reduces risk in technology development for a robotic free-flyer. The Smartphone system tracks features or landmarks it detects to help guide the SPHERES robot. This will help develop free flyers that can support current or future space missions.
SPHERES were also on display as NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman joined Swanson to perform the finals in the SPHERES Zero Robotics competition. The event allowed middle school students to design research for the station by writing algorithms for tasks the SPHERES satellites can accomplish that would be relevant to future space missions. A major outreach tool as well as scientific investigation, SPHERES Zero Robotics provides a unique and valuable opportunity for students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The event was broadcast to more than 150 students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a thousand more students watching from their schools in eight states.
Swanson also supported the Mechanisms of Gravity Resistance in Plants From Signal Transformation and Transduction to Response (Resist Tubule) experiments. Last week, he watered seed samples and incubated a set of them in microgravity and a different set in simulated Earth gravity, installing them into the fluorescence microscope for ground observation. This week, after inserting these samples into the Clean Bench for ground-scientists to observe the growth, Swanson prepared to closeout the investigation for this expedition. The Resist Tubule investigation clarifies the mechanisms of gravity resistance in plants, which played a pivotal role in transitioning plant ancestors from an aquatic environment to a terrestrial environment about 450 million years ago. This study could enable efficient plant growth for human benefit, including consumable plants, both in orbit and on Earth.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst helped wrap up the Facility for Absorption and Surface Tension (FASTER) investigation. The experiment investigates the physical properties that determine the stability of a variety of emulsions, which are present in natural sources and many man-made products. The knowledge gained from FASTER can assist in the design of the best compounds to stabilize, or destabilize, different emulsions depending on their use, and optimize use toward more environmentally friendly products on Earth.
Fluid handling processes in space can involve emulsions and the microgravity environment may influence the lifetime of its properties. FASTER can help engineers predict the behavior of emulsions, factoring that knowledge into the design of space systems.
Yuri Guinart-Ramirez, Lead Increment Scientist