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NASA’s SpaceX 30th Resupply Mission to Launch Experiments to Station

NASA and the agency’s international partners are sending scientific investigations to the International Space Station on the 30th SpaceX commercial resupply services mission, including tests of technologies to monitor sea ice, automate 3D mapping, and create nanoparticle solar cells. The company’s Dragon cargo spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in early March.

Read more about some of the research making the journey to the orbiting laboratory:

Plants off the Planet

Plants can be used in regenerative life support systems, to provide food, and to contribute to the well-being of astronauts on future deep space exploration missions. C4 Photosynthesis in Space (APEX-09) examines how microgravity affects the mechanisms by which two types of grasses, known as C3 and C4, capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Plants respond to stressful conditions based on their genetic makeup and the environment,” said Pubudu Handakumbura, principal investigator with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We aim to uncover the molecular changes involved in plants exposed to spaceflight stressors and develop an understanding of the mechanisms of photosynthesis in space.” Results could clarify plant responses to stressful environments and inform the design of bio-regenerative support systems on future missions, as well as systems for plant growth on Earth.

Small plants grow in rows of small containers that are blue on the bottom and white plastic at the top. The containers sit in clear pans on either side of a divider inside a large open box and are bathed in red light
Seedlings germinating for the APEX-09 C4 Space investigation.
Pubudu Handakumbura

Sensing the Sea

The ocean significantly affects the global climate. A technique called Global Navigation Satellite System reflectometry (GNSS-R), which receives satellite signals reflected from the surface of Earth, shows promise as a way to monitor ocean phenomena and improve climate models. Killick-1: A GNSS Reflectometry CubeSat for Measuring Sea Ice Thickness and Extent (Nanoracks KILLICK-1) tests using this technique to measure sea ice. The project supports development of space and science capabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, by providing hands-on experience with space systems and Earth observation. More than 100 undergraduate and graduate engineering students participated in the project.

“The most exciting aspect of this project is that students have the opportunity to launch a mission into space,” said Desmond Power, a co-investigator with C-CORE of Canada. “It is also exciting to build a tiny satellite that does different things, including contributing to our knowledge of climate change.”

GNSS-R technology is low-cost, light, and energy efficient. Its potential applications on Earth include providing data for weather and climate models and improving the understanding of ocean phenomena such as surface winds and storm surge.

A rectangular box with two sides open stands on its end on a white table. The sides and front have KILLICK-1 and logos for the investigation sponsors on them. A green circuit board with several connected wires is visible on the top of the box.
The KILLICK-1 CubeSat ready to pack for launch.
Memorial University, Canada

Automated Autonomous Assistance

The Multi-resolution Scanner (MRS) Payload for Astrobee (Multi-Resolution Scanning) tests technology to automate 3D sensing, mapping, and situational awareness systems.

“Our MRS on an Astrobee free-flying robot will create 3D maps inside the space station,” said Marc Elmouttie, project lead with Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, which developed the technology with The Boeing Company. “The scanner integrates technologies developed by our mining and robotics teams. By combining data from multiple sensors, we compensate for weaknesses in any one system. This provides very high-resolution 3D data and more accurate trajectory data to help us understand how the robot moves around in space.”

“The technology could be used to autonomously operate spacecraft with minimal or no human occupancy where robots must sense the environment and precisely maneuver, including the lunar Gateway space station,” said Principal Investigator Connie Miller of Boeing. “Other uses could be to inspect and maintain spacecraft and for autonomous vehicle operations on other celestial bodies. Results also support improvements in robotic technologies for harsh and dangerous environments on Earth.”

Inside a large white test container, Elmouttie crouches next to a carry-on suitcase-sized box with two camera lenses visible on the top front of the box and the Astrobee robot’s white control panel below it with two round glowing lights.
CSIRO Project Lead Marc Elmouttie with the MRS hardware and Astrobee robot ready for final pre-flight testing.

Placement of Particles

The Nano Particle Haloing Suspension investigation examines how nanoparticles and microparticles interact within an electrical field. A process called nanoparticle haloing uses charged nanoparticles to enable precise particle arrangements that improve the efficiency of quantum-dot synthesized solar cells, according to Stuart J. Williams, principal investigator with the University of Louisville Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Quantum dots are tiny spheres of semiconductor material with the potential to convert sunlight into energy much more efficiently. Conducting these processes in microgravity provides insight into the relationship between shape, charge, concentration, and interaction of particles.

The investigation is supported by NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which partners with government, higher education, and industry on projects to improve a research infrastructure and research and development capacity and competitiveness.

A young man wearing a black short-sleeved polo leans over a wooden workbench, using both hands to attach wires to a small black breadboard. A black rectangular box sits on the bench next to it.
A capstone student assembles part of the Nano Particle Haloing Suspension hardware.
University of Louisville

Download high-resolution photos and videos of the research mentioned in this article.

Melissa Gaskill
International Space Station Research Communications Team
Johnson Space Center

Search this database of scientific experiments to learn more about those mentioned above.