As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, “Phantom of the Opera goes to Space,” a collaboration of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), and the Student Rocket Society (SRS) wrote a proposal and submitted it to the Space Florida International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition. The proposal was due on October 30, 2012, and, with a lot of help from the clubs’ supervisors Dr. Durrance and Dr. Kirk, we were able to get it done on time. In November, the winners were notified and we were one of them! So Florida Tech is now preparing to send a payload to the International Space Station.
The competition was open to anyone over the age of eighteen, whether local or international. A proposal workshop held on October 5, 2012, helped lay out the exact rules and requirements. The judges would be looking for experiments proposing some kind of benefit to mankind. They would also have to be safe and not put anyone on the ISS in danger. And they must have the potential to benefit future space travel, require as little astronaut involvement as possible, and fulfill many other criteria. NanoRacks, a firm that provides access to the ISS, also passed out a “How to Build a NanoRacks Payload” describing the exact properties the experiment needs to fit into. The NanoLab Module or CubeLab Module, as they call it, is a 10x10x10cm cube that will be plugged into a NanoRacks frame with fifteen other little cubes. The maximum power the cube can get is around 5 Watts, and the less an astronaut has to check on the experiment, the better. So overall, our resources are very limited, making it all the more challenging to come up with a viable proposal.
Nevertheless, our group was able to cram a plausible experiment into those tiny dimensions and our engineers have successfully designed and built some prototypes and are in the testing stages ensuring their safe trip to space and back. In February, we will send our finished payload to NASA for safety inspections, which probably will not be complete until May or June. Then it has to sit around until the next rocket travels up to the ISS sometime between October and December of 2013. Once our payload is safely aboard the ISS, an astronaut will follow specified instructions to start our experiment and it will run for thirty days in microgravity. Since our experiment deals with identifying the life cycle of protein crystal fibers, thirty days gives us plenty of time to try and successfully grow some large fibers, which does not work very well in strong gravity because the fibers collapse before they can get very big. This is a very exciting time for us, and within another year or so, we will hopefully have some promising results from the ISS!
photo credits: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via photopin cc
< http://ssl.engineering.uky.edu/missions/international-space-station/nanorack-cubelabs/ >