Promotion of new materials and technologies outside the ISS

Going to extremes with MISSE: advancing new materials and technologies outside the ISS

Press release from: Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)
Posted on Friday 27th Aug 2021

The International Space Station (ISS) is an incredible research platform on which more than 3,000 experiments have been carried out – but not all research takes place within the surrounding laboratory. Outside the ISS, the extreme space conditions provide an unprecedented environment to test new materials and develop technologies in ways that are not possible on Earth.

Several investigations begin on the 23rd by SpaceX The Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission – including two projects sponsored by the ISS US National Laboratory – will meet these unique conditions through the MISSE Flight Facility, a space exposure platform attached to the ISS that operates in extremely low Earth orbit. An investigation will test the novel 3D printed thermosets This could be a more durable option for aerospace applications. The other will demonstrate a new one ultra-compact spectral sensor with applications ranging from atmospheric and environmental studies to precision agriculture, planetary science, machine vision, and medical applications.

The MISSE Flight Facility is operated by Aegis Aerospace, Inc., a commercial service provider of ISS National Lab. Aegis Aerospace is a new company created by the merger between Alpha Space Test & Research Alliance and MEI Technologies. The MISSE platform offers harsh conditions – such as extreme temperature fluctuations, ultraviolet radiation, atomic oxygen (highly reactive individual oxygen atoms) and micrometeoroids – for the accelerated testing of materials and technologies with important applications in space and on earth.

“Through the MISSE Flight Facility, we’re helping everyone – from university researchers to large aerospace companies, government agencies, small tech companies and everyone in between – get their projects and ideas to maturity faster,” said Mark Gittleman, President and CEO of Aegis Aerospace.

On this mission, a University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (UIUC) study is using MISSE to evaluate the durability of a new class of 3D-printed polydicyclopentadiene (pDCPD) -based thermoset polymers for aerospace applications. Such materials could represent a more durable alternative to the thermoplastics currently in use, such as Kaplon or Teflon, which degrade with prolonged exposure to the extreme environmental conditions in space.

Using novel polymer formulations, 3D printing, and a rapid polymer curing technique, the UIUC team produced new pDCPD-based polymers and composite materials. Despite its light weight, pDCPD has a cross-linked structure that improves resistance to dirt and corrosion, and the team’s composite materials contain silica particles to further improve corrosion resistance. If successfully demonstrated, these new materials could offer advantages not only in terms of durability, but also in terms of their ability to be produced quickly using energy-efficient manufacturing processes.

Another MISSE user on this mission is a research team from Houston-based technology company Nanohmics. This project aims to validate a new ultra-compact spectral imager developed by Nanohmics in collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland and NASA Langley Research Center. The sensor images in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum, but Nanohmics is also developing variants of the technology for several spectral bands.

While most current spectral imaging satellites are large, heavy, and expensive, Nanohmics’ sensor is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand – making it the smallest spectrograph to have ever flown on the ISS. Due to its compact size and light weight, the sensor could be used in CubeSats and offers more cost-effective remote sensing functions.

Accurate calibration of the sensor is essential to ensure the quality of its measurements. With the MISSE Flight Facility, Nanohmics will test the performance of its prototype sensor in orbit and validate the calibration stability of the sensor. The results of this research will allow the company to increase the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the sensor to a TRL of 7, bringing it closer to commercialization.

“MISSE provides one of the fastest, easiest, and most affordable ways to test new technology in space, and it’s only possible because of the agreements we have with the ISS National Lab and NASA,” said Gittleman. “This is what MISSE does for technology developers and researchers – it dramatically increases the speed with which you can develop new generations of technology.”

For more information on all of the ISS National Lab-sponsored research on SpaceX CRS-23, please visit our Home page.

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About the International Space Station (ISS) US National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique laboratory that enables research and technology development that is not possible on Earth. As a public service company, the ISS National Lab enables researchers to use this multi-user facility to improve life on earth, mature space-based business models, advance the scientific literacy of the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low earth orbit. This orbiting national laboratory makes research resources available on the ISS to support non-NASA science, technology, and education initiatives by U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab under a collaborative agreement with NASA and facilitates access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.

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