All systems are “go” for a NASA space shuttle mission later this year that will, in part, retrieve test materials that have been exposed in space for more than a year on the International Space Station.
The goal of the mission, dubbed Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-6), is to monitor how the materials held up to the pounding that orbiting spacecraft endure in their travels.
According to officials at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), which developed four small panels of ultra-hard silicon carbide for the Space Station project, the recovery mission had been slated to take place after August 6. That time frame, however, may be delayed a bit as a result of a rescheduled launch for a prior shuttle mission.
Whenever the samples return, EERC Project Manager John Hurley will attend a special opening of the cases that will carry the materials back to Earth. Hurley will look at how EERC’s pieces fared in space. Specifically, he’ll inspect for large impacts on the edges of the samples. NASA will take slightly magnified photos of the exposed surfaces to help spot meteoroid/debris impacts. The EERC will be given access to those photos.
EERC researchers will analyze the samples using electron microscopes at its laboratories in Grand Forks.
“While the material has a variety of uses, I see two possible applications in space technology,” Hurley said. “One of those is as spacecraft protection from impact by meteoroids or space debris. The other is as a heat shield (withstanding temperatures of more than 1,450 degrees Celsius).”
By August, MISSE-6 will have been deployed for 17 months and will have completed more than 8,000 orbits — or about 200 million miles, more than twice the distance from the Earth to the sun.