ISS Utilization: NanoRacks Services
ISS Utilization: NanoRacks Logistics Services for Small Satellites and ISS Deployment Systems
NanoRacks LLC of Houston, TX, a private logistics company, offers multiple commercial opportunities to use the U.S. National Lab on the ISS (International Space Station) for educational, institutional, or industry research. The NanoRacks smallsat research program provides a commercial gateway to the extreme environment of space for Earth and deep space observation. Any LEO payload is in play (i.e. atmospheric data collection, validation of COTS products/sensors, etc).
Private companies, educational institutions, and other organizations who plan to send experiments aboard the ISS, face a challenge: Each experiment sent aboard the ISS requires extensive safety and security checks — and about 1,000 pages of documentation (NASA requirements). In the past few years, a handful of companies worldwide have started handling all those details for space entrepreneurs. 1)
NanoRacks, one of the first companies to enter the field, operates the first commercial laboratory in space aboard the ISS and a panel laboratory that's attached to the space station. For the price of $30,000 for educational institutions or $60,000 for commercial entities, NanoRacks handles all the logistics related to sending experiments into space. The commercial company will handle the paperwork, find transportation among the many vehicles headed to the ISS, install the experiment, and take care of all governmental relations for would-be space experimenters. The standard NanoRacks experiment stays in space for 30 days.
NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) System
The NRCSD is a self-contained CubeSat deployer system that mechanically and electrically isolates CubeSats from the ISS, cargo resupply vehicles, and ISS crew. The NRCSD design is compliant with NASA ISS flight safety requirements and is space qualified. 14)
Figure 1: Illustration of the NRCSD (image credit: NanoRacks)
The NRCSD is a rectangular tube that consists of anodized aluminum plates, base plate assembly, access panels and deployer doors. The NRCSD deployer doors are located on the forward end, the base plate assembly is located on the aft end, and access panels are provided on the top. The inside walls of the NRCSD are smooth bore design to minimize and/or preclude hang-up or jamming of CubeSat appendages during deployment, should these become released prematurely. However, deployable systems shall be designed such that there is no intentional contact with the inside walls of the NRCSD.
Figure 2: Layout of the NRCSD (image credit: NanoRacks)
Access to CubeSat Inhibit Switches and Service Ports: Access for RBF (Remove Before Flight) pins and charging systems during the integration process is provided through access panels located on the topside (+Y axis) of the NRCSD as shown in Figure 3. CubeSats are accessible only through the access panels when integrated with the NRCSD.
Figure 3: Lateral view of NRCSD and access panel dimensions (image credit: NanoRacks)
For a deployment, the NRCSD platform is moved outside via the Kibo Module's Airlock and slide table that allows the JEMRMS (Japanese Experimental Module Remote Manipulator System) to move the deployers to the correct orientation for the satellite release and also provides command and control to the deployers. Each NRCSD is capable of holding six CubeSat Units – allowing it to launch 1U, 2U, 3U, 4U, 5U, and 6U (2 x 3 and 1x 6) CubeSats. Note: NanRacks is planning on implementing the 2x3U capability late 2015.
Some background on the JEM/Kibo deployment facility:
JEM/Kibo Airlock (AL) System of JAXA: Kibo's airlock system is dedicated to small-size goods only. The maximum size of an item that can pass through this airlock is 576 mm x 830 mm x 800 mm. The airlock, attached to the Kibo's PM (Pressurized Module), is being utilized when experiment equipment or materials need to be transferred between the PM, pressurized to one Earth atmosphere, and the EF (Exposed Facility), located in the space vacuum.
Figure 4: Schematic view of the Kibo PM and EF with the Airlock location in the PM (left), and the Airlock system layout (right), image credit: JAXA
The airlock system is cylindrical and is attached to the pressurized module's manipulator side. One cylinder hatch is located on each side. The hatch on the PM side is called the inner hatch; the hatch exposed to space is called the outer hatch. Items to be transferred through the airlock are first fastened on a slide table then transferred by sliding this table. The inner hatch has a small window that enables viewing the inside of the airlock.
Figure 5: Photo of the Airlock system on Kibo, outer hatch (left), inner hatch (center) and slide table (right, image credit: JAXA
J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer)
J-SSOD provides a novel, safe, small satellite launching capability to the ISS (International Space Station). The J-SSOD is a unique satellite launcher, handled by the JEMRMS (Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System), which provides containment and deployment mechanisms for several individual small satellites. The J-SSOD platform, including the satellite install cases holding the small satellites, is transferred by crew members into the vacuum of space through the JEM airlock for JEMRMS retrieval, positioning and deployment. 15) 16)
J-SSOD is composed of the Satellite Install Cases, Separation Mechanism and Electrical Box. J-SSOD is used by attaching it with MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform).
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) developed the unique system "J-SSOD" to deploy the satellite and inject it into orbit from ISS/Kibo, taking advantage of its unique function having both JEM AL (JEM Airlock) and JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulator System, a kind of robotic arm).
J-SSOD of JAXA is a mechanism for deploying Micro/Nanosatellites designed in accordance with CubeSat design specification (1U, 10 cm x 10 cm x10 cm) and 50 kg-size Microsatellite (55 cm x 35 cm x55 cm) from Kibo to space as shown in the Figure 6. The J-SSOD consists of mainly three components as shown in the Figure7, the Satellite Install Case with the spring deployment mechanism, the Separation Mechanism to maintain satellites inside the case by holding the hinged door of the Satellite Install Case and the Electrical Box. 17)
Figure 6: The deployment operation by using the J-SSOD. Left: deployment of CubeSats; Right: deployment of microsatellites (image credit: JAXA)
J-SSOD is installed on the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) for translation back and forth through the JEM AL(Airlock) and for the JEMRMS ((JEM-Remote Manipulator System) handling. The JEMRMS will position the platform with the J-SSOD towards the aft-nadir direction to assure retrograde deployment. The ballistic number of a satellite shall be less than 100 kg/m2 for faster orbiting decay of the satellite than the ISS. When the trigger commands are initiated, the separation mechanism rotates and opens the hinged door of the Satellite Install Case. The spring deployment mechanism in the case pushes out satellites with a spring force, and satellites are finally deployed. The Separation Mechanism and the Electronics Box are reusable on-orbit. The Satellite Install Case has no heater but is covered by the MLI (Multi-Layer Insulation) for passive thermal control.
Table 2: Specification of the J-SSOD assembly
Figure 7: Overview of the J-SSOD components (image credit: JAXA)
Legend to Figure 7: J-SSOD consists of mainly three components, the Satellite Install Case with the spring deployment mechanism, the Separation Mechanism to maintain satellites inside the case by holding the hinged door of the Satellite Install Case and the Electrical Box. The J-SSOD will be installed on the MPEP for translation back and forth through the JEM AL and for the JEMRMS handling.
Operation Scenario for J-SSOD Mission
The Micro/Nanosatellites deployed from "Kibo" are stored in the J-SSOD satellite install case and launched as a vehicle cargo to be transferred to the ISS by a transfer vehicle to ISS such as the "Kounotori" (HTV, H-II Transfer Vehicle). After being transferred to the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo", the satellite install case is installed to be held by the robotic arm controlled by an astronaut to deploy the satellites by a command signal sent from an astronaut or a ground controller. Operation scenario after receiving satellite on ground is shown in Figure 8.
Preparation for launch:
1) The satellite is installed in the Satellite Install Case and stowed inside the CTB (Cargo Transfer Bag) with cushion foam.
2) The CTB is handed over to cargo integrator of the transfer vehicle such as "Kounotori" (HTV) and launched to ISS/Kibo.
Figure 8: Preparation for launch. Left: The satellite installed in the Satellite Install Case; Right: The Satellite Install Case stowed cushion foam (image credit: JAXA)
Legend to Figure 8: The satellite is installed in the Satellite Install Case and stowed inside the CTB (Cargo Transfer Bag) with cushion foam.
Installation on the Airlock slide table in JEM PM:
1) After launch the CTB is moved into the on-orbit JEM PM (JEM-Pressurized Module).
2) Unpacking of the CTB.
3) Open the inner hatch of Airlock and extend the Airlock slide table into the JEM PM.
4) Install the all Satellite Cases with Electrical Box and Separation Mechanisms on the MPEP on the Airlock and then connect electrical and signal cables.
Figure 9: Installation on the Airlock slide table in JEM PM. Left: The satellite is installed in the Satellite Install Case; Right: The Satellite Install Case is installed on the MPEP (image credit JAXA/NASA)
J-SSOD Checkout and Setup for Deployment:
1) Connect the Checkout (C/O) cable to the MPEP.
2) Drive the separation mechanism by commands from the JEMRMS console ( or the ground) and check out the Separation Mechanism.
3) Confirm the separation mechanism goes back to initial position. Disconnect the C/O cable.
4) Remove the launch cover from the Satellite Install Case.
5) Remove the RBF pin from each satellite.
6) Put on the access-window cover to the Satellite Install Case for each satellite.
7) Retrieve the Airlock table into the JEM AL and close the inner hatch.
Figure 10: J-SSOD Checkout and Setup for Deployment. Left: Checkout of the J-SSOD system by an Astronaut; Right: Airlock operation by an Astronaut (image credit JAXA/NASA).
1) Depressurize inside of the Airlock.
2) Open the outer hatch of Airlock and extend the slide table into outer space.
3) Grapple the MPEP by the JEMRMS.
4) Supply heater power to J-SSOD from the JEMRMS.
5) Maneuver the MPEP to the appropriate deployment position.
6) Deploy the first set of satellites by commands from the JEMRMS console (or the ground).
7) Deploy the second set of satellites by commands from the JEMRMS console (or the ground).
Figure 11: Operation for the Satellite Deployment. Left: Extend the slide table into outer space; Right:Maneuver the MPEP to the appropriate deployment position (image credit JAXA/NASA)
Figure 12: Operation for the satellite deployment. Left: Maneuver the MPEP to the appropriate deployment position; Right: The CubeSats in space after deployment (image credit JAXA/NASA)
Stowage after deployment:
1) Install the MPEP onto the Airlock slide table by the JEMRMS.
2) Retrieve the Airlock table into the JEM AL and close the outer hatch. Then repressurize inside of JEM AL.
• JAXA launched the H-IIB launch vehicle No.3 (H-IIB F3) on July 21, 2012 with the HTV-3 (H-II Transfer Vehicle-3)module onboard , also known as Kounotori-3 (White Stork), a cargo transfer vehicle to the International Space Station). The launch site was the TNSC (Tanegashima Space Center), Japan. 18) 19)
• The HTV-3/Kounotori-3 flight delivered 4600 kg of cargo to the International Space Station. This included internal supplies as well as unpressurized cargo delivered via the ULC (Unpressurized Logistics Carrier). The PLC (Pressurized Logistics Carrier) cargo is comprised of system equipment (61%), science hardware (20%), crew food (15%) and personal crew items (4%).
• The payload of HTV-3 contained also the J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer), developed by JAXA, with the objective to deploy small satellites (CubeSats) and inject them into orbit from JEM/Kibo (Japanese Experiment Module), which is one of the ISS (International Space Station) modules. J-SSOD is taking advantage of unique JEM/Kibo functions, namely the JEM-AL (Airlock) and JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulator System), a robotic arm installed on JEM/Kibo.
• The first orbital deployment of CubeSats from JEM/Kibo was successfully conducted in October 2012 through the J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) developed by JAXA.
• As of March 2016, more than 100 small satellites have been deployed from Kibo and the deployment system has been attracting global attention as being a new space transportation system for small satellites.
• JAXA also provides the opportunities for Asian nations as a gateway for sharing the values of ISS/Kibo and to promote capacity building to enroll young researchers, engineers and students utilizing Kibo. Furthermore, since 2015, JAXA has collaborated with UNOOSA (United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs) for providing CubeSat deployment opportunities from Kibo in order to facilitate improved space technologies in developing countries.
• The HTV-6/Kounotori-6 aboard the H-IIB vehicle, launched to the ISS on December 9, 2016, delivered an upgraded J-SSOD (JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer). The J-SSOD-2 features the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) as its structural backbone, but hosts four 3U deployers for a total capacity of 12 CubeSat Units. — JAXA plans to send an 18U deployer to ISS on the next HTV flight followed by a 48U deployer in 2019. 20)
Figure 13: Photo of the upgraded J-SSOD-2 (front and back views), image credit: JAXA
NanoRacks commercial infrastructure aboard the ISS on hosted CubeLab modules
Onboard the ISS, the NanoRacks platforms are installed in ER (Express Rack) locker inserts to supply power and USB data transfer capability for NanoRacks Modules. Each NanoRacks Module must conform to a standard size of approximately 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm with a mass of 1 kg. Every NanoRacks Module has a different educational or industrial researcher, the experiments supported cover a wide range of disciplines, some NanoRacks Modules serve as sorties. An ISS crew member powers down the NanoRacks Platform and then plugs in the resupplied NanoRacks Modules. The NanoRacks Platform is powered up, and the data cable between the associated USB port on the NanoRacks Platform front panel and an Express Laptop computer is plugged in to collect data and download at designated times.
The mantra of NanoRacks is to reduce the cost and minimize the time required to fly items in space. As such, in the first two years of operations, NanoRacks has launched two permanent facilities and thirteen different experiments on board the Shuttle, HTV, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft as well as returned payloads on the Shuttle and Soyuz.
NanoRacks is a commercially operated research facility onboard the ISS, designed and developed by NanoRacks LLC of Houston, TX, and of Laguna Woods, CA, USA. Each platform provides room for up to 16 customer payloads to plug effortlessly into a standard USB connector, which provides both power and data connectivity. Its PnP (Plug-n-Play) system uses a simple, standardized interface that reduces payload integration cost and schedule for nano-scale research on the orbiting laboratory. 21)
NanoRacks LLC is working under a Space Act Agreement awarded by NASA from a competitive announcement of opportunity for the use of the National Laboratory on the International Space Station. NanoRacks LLC signed the Space Act Agreement in September 2009 and partnered with Kentucky Space and the Space Systems Laboratory (SSL) at the University of Kentucky (UK). The funding to build and certify the rack inserts has come exclusively from NanoRacks and their customers.
The Kentucky Space Consortium, or simply "Kentucky Space", was founded in early 2006 (it is based in Lexington, KY). The universities involved in this partnership are: University of Kentucky, Murray State University, Morehead State University, KCTCS (Kentucky Community & Technical College System), University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University.
The NanoRacks platform and the CubeLab standard provide a unique new opportunity for inexpensive repeatable access to the ISS for small payloads. The NanoRacks platform serves as the interface between CubeLab modules and the ISS while providing mechanical attachment, power, and data transfer to each module. The CubeLab standard defines mechanical and electrical requirements for CubeLab modules. CubeLabs can be flown to and from the ISS on a variety of manned and unmanned vehicles to support a wide variety of microgravity experiments. Once aboard the ISS CubeLabs are installed in the NanoRacks platforms. 22) 23) 24) 25) 26)
NASA's International Space Station National Laboratory program and NanoRacks, LLC signed a Space Act Agreement on September 9, 2009 that started the commercial space efforts of NanoRacks. The mantra of NanoRacks is to reduce the cost and minimize the time required to fly items in space. As such, in the first two years of operations NanoRacks has launched two permanent facilities and thirteen different experiments on board the Shuttle, HTV, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft as well as returned payloads on the Shuttle and Soyuz. 27)
The NanoRacks platforms are permanently installed in an EXPRESS (EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to the Space Station) Rack Locker aboard the ISS.
Figure 14: EXPRESS Rack under test at NASA (left) and NanoRacks platform installation (right) in EXPRESS Rack and ISS module structure (image credit: Kentucky Space, NanoRacks LLC)
In July and August 2010, the ISS was outfitted with the first two NanoRack platforms, flown to orbit on STS-131 (19A) on April 5, 2010 and STS-132 (ULF4) on May 14, 2010, giving the ISS the capacity to support up to 32 1U CubeLab modules. The NanoRack-1 and NanoRack-2 were installed in EXPRESS Rack-4 which is accommodated in JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) of ISS.
Figure 15: NanoRacks Frame and Shannon Walker activating NanoRacks Frame 1(image credit: NanoRacks)
With the NanoRacks/CubeLab approach, only the CubeLab modules need be carried to/from the ISS which can be achieved in standard CTBs (Cargo Transfer Bags) compatible with any of the existing and planned cargo vehicles that service the ISS (e.g., Progress, ATV, HTV, and DragonLab). - After the operational life of the individual CubeLab Modules, they can be disposed of or returned on Shuttle, Soyuz, or DragonLab.
The front panel of a NanoRacks platform, which is visible to the astronauts once installed in the locker, contains the ISS power connector, a circuit breaker, a status LED, and 16 USB type B female connectors. The only connection to the station is a 28 V power cable. To command CubeLabs or to download experiment results, an EXPRESS Rack Laptop Computer (ELC) is connected to the appropriate USB connector corresponding to each CubeLab.
Figure 16: Illustration of possible CubeLab module configurations and a NanoRack (image credit: Kentucky Space, NanoRacks LLC)
The NanoRacks system itself fits inside an EXPRESS Rack locker and holds up to 16 CubeLabs. Figure 17 shows the basic CubeLab form factor (10 cm cube), the configuration of CubeLabs on the NanoRack, and the EXPRESS Rack locker that encloses the Rack. Figure 14 (right side) shows an exploded view of the EXPRESS Rack and the configuration of the lockers. EXPRESS Racks are located in several modules throughout the ISS.
Figure 17: Illustration of (a) the CubeLab form factor, (b) a NanoRack with CubeLab module, (c) EXPRESS Rack locker (image credit: Kentucky Space)
The CubeLab standard leverages the CubeSat form-factor (10 cm cube) which has revolutionized access to space for free-flying satellites throughout the last decade. A goal of the NanoRacks CubeLab facility on ISS is also to alleviate in particular the long waits of domestic U.S. CubeSat projects for a launch opportunity (Ref. 39).
Table 3: Overview of a CubeLab unit performance characteristics/requirements
The NanoRacks platform and CubeLab standard addresses these issues by providing 1) regular, fast turn-around access, 2) a reasonable cost and 3) by operating under a Space Act Agreement with NASA, provides access to an array of commercial and foreign launch vehicles with no ITAR concerns.
The CubeLab standard is designed to be flexible to accommodate a large number of mission concepts. The generic CubeLab is self-contained, autonomous, and disposable after the mission is over. It collects data from an experiment, e.g. sensor values, images from a camera, images from a microscope, etc., and saves the data as a file on a USB mass storage device. Files are then transferred from the CubeLab to a laptop by the crew and downlinked to MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) and archived at the Space Systems Lab for retrieval and analysis by the developer.
The CubeLab standard also allows more complicated mission concepts which include downmass, e.g. module return or sample return, and/or crew interaction. The crew interaction could be as simple as experiment activation to as complicated as real time interaction with a module. Also possible are unpowered experiments which necessitate sample return and/or crew interaction, e.g. radiation exposure, liquid mixing, crystal growth, etc. The standard is designed to be flexible enough that most mission concepts can be accommodated.
Figure 18: Photo of a 1U CubeLab module (image credit: Kentucky Space)
Larger CubeLab modules are possible with 2U (10 cm x 10 cm x 20 cm), 4U (10 cm x 10 cm x 40 cm), and up to 2U x 4U (10 cm x 20 cm x 40 cm) configurations, Figure 16 shows the various CubeLab form-factor layouts to accommodate larger payloads. CubeLab modules are physically attached to the NanoRacks platform using USB type B connectors.
CubeLab payloads have to undergo a NASA flight verification process to be accepted for operating within the EXPRESS Rack of the ISS. This verification process outlines an array of environmental, electronic, safety, and human factor tests which developers must be cognizant of during design and planning phases. A CubeLab ICD (Interface Control Document) has been developed to ensure that CubeLab modules integrated into the NanoRacks platform will conform to all of these higher-level requirements. 28)
Real-time operations aboard the ISS, including installation, activation, data transfer, and deactivation of CubeLab modules, are coordinated by the NanoRacks Operations Center in the SSL (Space Systems Laboratory) at the University of Kentucky through the HOSC (Huntsville Operations Support Center) at MSFC. The NanoRacks/SSL Operations Center consists of a secure operation console tied into NASA voice loops, real-time astronaut and ground systems scheduling systems, procedure development and viewing tools, realtime telemetry feeds, and live high-definition video feeds from the ISS.
Console support is required during all real-time operations on board the ISS; thus, the Operations Center voice loops are manned at all times during NanoRacks engineering and CubeLab science operations and on-call 24/7. Console support ensures the integrity of CubeLab science goals and consists of monitoring telemetry feeds to ensure nominal current draw and temperatures, reviewing procedures and timelines, and monitoring NASA science and engineering voice loops to respond to astronaut and controller questions and coordinate crew time and resources.
The Operations Center suite of resources to support CubeLab operations include: The NASA Internet Voice Distribution System (IVoDS) providing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP); International Procedure Viewer (iPV) and On-Board Short Term Plan Viewer (OSTPV) for astronaut schedules and procedures, respectively; Enhanced HOSC System (EHS) and Enhanced HOSC System PC (EPC) for telemetry views; and the Telescience Resource Kit (TReK), for remote commanding. By maintaining all NASA protocols for internet and machine security, password protection, and physical facilities security, the Operations Center serves as an essential communication link between NASA and CubeLab developers.
Figure 19: NanoRacks/CubeLab operations console in the SSL of the University of Kentucky (image credit: Kentucky Space)
NanoRacks LLC, working with its partner Kentucky Space, has a turnkey operational system that can handle all aspects of customer requirements, from payload development, to NASA integration to mission operations, all in a customer friendly environment.
The plug-and-play nature of the NanoRacks-CubeLab modules allows for interested parties, such as universities or commercial companies, to fly small and relatively inexpensive payloads aboard the station. This enables microgravity research for those who may not otherwise have had the opportunity.
Some early CubeLab experiments:
• On Sept. 21, 2009, NanoRacks LLC announced plans to send "CubeLab standard" experiments to the ISS for installation in NanoRacks.
• In 2010, four CubeLab modules were flown to the ISS. Two modules, CubeLab1 and CubeLab-2, were flown with each NanoRacks platform. Each of the four modules was designed to test the effects of ionizing radiation on commercial flash memory devices inside the EXPRESS Rack locker. The motivation of this testing was that COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) electronic components can suffer from SEEs (Single Event Effects) in the presence of radiation in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and baseline testing of these components should provide valuable guidance for future CubeLab module development (Ref. 39).
- CubeLab-1, developed by Kentucky Space, interfaced with the NanoRacks platform. Following Kentucky Space's and NASA's testing requirements, CubeLab-1 interfaced with the NanoRacks platform, drew power, and was configured to act as a simple flash drive. This was to ensure the basic function of the NanoRack, providing electrical and data connectivity as well as structural support, worked in microgravity as expected. It also tested the radiation susceptibility of SD cards, which are also used in Kentucky Space's orbital CubeSat, KySat-1. 29)
- The primary objective of CubeLab-2 was to test the radiation susceptibility of the SD (Secure Digital ) cards (a non-volatile memory card format) that are used in KySat-1. Various shielding methods were used in an effort to find effective ways to reduce radiation susceptibility of flash memory. 30)
The first module to return from orbit was CubeLab-2 on May 26, 2010 aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis after spending six weeks in orbit. Once all of the first four CubeLab modules are returned (on STS-133, 134, and 135 in late 2011) the flash memory devices will be compared to ground control CubeLabs and each other to compare the affects of SEEs during for various durations on-orbit.
• In 2011, a wide variety of CubeLab modules are being developed by High-school teams, Universities, and industrial partners. The experiments include microgravity fluid mixing experiments, plant growth, materials properties investigations, pharmaceutical experiments and educational outreach activities. Additionally a digital microscope facility is manifested for flight to the ISS for installation in the NanoRacks Platform as an additional analysis tool for future CubeLab developers.
• On Jan. 22, 2011, the HTV-2 (H-II Transfer Vehicle 2) of JAXA was launched from TNSC (Tanegashima Space Center), Japan. On Jan. 27, HTV-2 arrived at the ISS. Three NanoRacks payloads were part of the HTV-2 cargo - which were those from Valley Christian High-school of San Jose, CA, Ohio State University (OSU), and a NanoRacks research facility hardware.
- The experiment of Valley Christian School is a 2U CubeLab module containing its own growing environment and monitoring system designed by students at Valley Christian. The objective is to record and relay data on plant growth in an effort to answer questions related to the effect of micro-gravity on the cultivation of plants in long duration space flight. The experiment involved testing whether plant-based food can be grown to sustain astronauts during prolonged space missions. 31) 32)
- The OSU experiment is focused on isolating the effect of gravity on the growth of ceria nanoparticles. Ceria (CeO2) is used as a support or catalyst in many technologically important reactions, such as high-temperature coatings for jet engines, solid oxide fuel cells for next-generation automobiles, and emissions abatement. The experiment will contribute information on whether reduced gravity leads to a higher level of performance for the catalyst. 33)
- The NanoRacks research facility hardware is the CubeLab-5 module, a USB microscope for use by crew members to analyze and digitally transfer images of the ISS on-orbit environment samples. As such, the CubeLab-5 module remains stowed as a permanent NanoRacks module. The objective of the CubeLab-5 module is to support future investigations onboard the ISS.
• On March 8, 2011, the term "CubeLab" became a registered trademark, CubeLab™, of Kentucky Space, LLC. 34)
The NanoRacks facilities inside the ISS, a component of the U.S. National Lab, include:
1) The primary NanoRacks lab, called NanoLab, is a turnkey commercial lab system in the ISS that provides payload opportunities using the CubeSat form factor. The system consists of proprietary equipment based around a series of plug-and-play modules. 35)
The NanoLab is the core payload hardware of NanoRacks, a powerful box in the CubeSat form factor (10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm). Every NanoLab has a circuit board that activates the experiment, turns it off and can be functioned for other activities. The NanoLabs are plugged into the NanoRacks research platforms via a normal USB port, allowing data and power to flow. A single NanoLab is 1U in size; NanoRacks can also handle 2U, or 4U or 2 x 4U sizes. The NanoRacks fee for a customer depends on the size of the NanoLab.
2) NanoRacks Platforms 1 and 2: These two research platforms hold the basic NanoLab assembly - providing power and data transfer capabilities to operate investigations in microgravity. Each NanoRacks Platform is approximately 43 cm x 23 cm x 50 cm in size with a mass of ~5.4 kg. The NanoRacks platforms are designed for use within the pressurized space station environment. Each platform provides room for up to 16 payload slots in the CubeSat form factor to plug effortlessly into a standard USB connector, which provides both power and data connectivity. Its plug and play system uses a simple, standardized interface that reduces payload integration cost and schedule for nanoscale research in microgravity. 36) 37)
Figure 20: Photo of a NanoRacks platform (1 or 2), image credit: NanoRacks
3) NanoRacks Platform 3: The Platform 3, also called NanoRacks Frame 3, is the latest addition of the NanoRacks product line and an upgrade for more advanced payloads. Frame 3 accommodates a total of 3 x 4U (10 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm) payloads, and has advanced features including an internal computer with its own crew interface facility for easier payload software development. To accommodate advanced experiments and demonstrations, Frame 3 can provide up to 50 W of power to a payload via USB and other data connections.
Figure 21: Conceptual view of the Platform 3 (Frame 3), holding 2 4U payloads (SuperCubes) and a centrifuge (image credit: NanoRacks)
Figure 22: NanoRacks Platform 3 image with centrifuge housing (image credit: NanoRacks)
4) NanoRacks Centrifuge: This device is permanently housed on the ISS providing microgravity experimentation opportunities for a customer's microgravity research. The centrifuge, developed with Astrium NA (North America), occupies just one slot in the NanoRacks Frame 3 platform (Figure 21). The centrifuge, previously flown on a number of STS missions, can simulate Earth, Moon and Mars gravity.
Figure 23: Photo of the NanoRacks centrifuge (image credit: NanoRacks)
5) NanoRacks Microscope: Onboard, there are two microscopes available. Microscope-1 plugs into any ISS laptop, allowing crew members to adjust the position of the samples on the slide and focus the microscope as well as choose the magnification from the 5X, 10X or 20X objectives. - When the desired images are captured, the crew member will copy them from the USB Video Device to the destination file for later downlink to your team on the ground.
Figure 24: Photos of Microscope-1 (left) and Microscope-2 (image credit: NanoRacks)
6) NanoRacks Plate Reader: The Plate Reader opens the door to new sophisticated research opportunities. The Plate Reader-1 holds 96 samples allowing veteran space researchers and those new to space, to perform the same state of the art analysis now done in laboratories on the Earth.
- Off the shelf MD (Molecular Devices) M5E instrument
- Takes 1 minute analysis for 96 wells
- Temperature controlled (heated)
- Stirring function
- Side cuvette port
- The instrument is operational since the 2nd quarter of 2012.
Figure 25: Illustration of the NanoRacks Plate Reader (image credit: NanoRacks)
7) NanoRacks MixStix: This device allows for a powerful, non-powered environment for fluid and biological research onboard the ISS. The dedicated 2U NanoLab research modules provide housing for up to twenty four individual MixStix (Fluids Mixing Enclosures), allowing all microgravity reactions and materials to be captured for analysis on the ISS or returned to Earth via the Soyuz. 38)
Figure 26: Graphic of fluid mixing tubes (image credit: NanoRacks)
All results are automatically generated by the mixing of the fluids in the microgravity environment after being manipulated (cracked open) by the ISS crew member by flexing the Teflon tube in the same manner as activating a glow stick.
• Initial installation on ISS: In July and August 2010, the ISS was outfitted with the first two NanoRacks platforms, flown to orbit on STS-131 (19A) on April 5, 2010 and STS-132 (ULF4) on May 14, 2010, giving the ISS the capacity to support up to 32 1U NanoLab modules. The NanoRacks-1 and NanoRacks-2 were permanently installed in Express Rack-4 which is accommodated in JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) of ISS.
- In 2010, four NanoLab modules were flown to the ISS. Two modules, NanoLab-1 and NanoLab-2, were flown with each NanoRacks platform. Each of the four modules was designed to test the effects of ionizing radiation on commercial flash memory devices inside the Express Rack locker. The motivation of this testing was that COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) electronic components can suffer from SEEs (Single Event Effects) in the presence of radiation in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and baseline testing of these components should provide valuable guidance for future NanoLab module development. 39)
• NanoRacks went operational onboard the ISS in August 2010. 40)
- On Jan. 22, 2011, HTV-2 of JAXA was launched from TNSC, Japan. In its payload was also a 2U NanoLab experiment of a student team from Valley Christian High School, San Jose, CA, USA. The experiment used a student-designed, self-contained plant-seed growth chamber (COTS products) that plugged into the NanoRacks-NanoLab platform inside the Japanese JEM/Kibo module onboard the ISS. An internal camera provided snapshots of the stages of growth during the experiment, which crew members then downlinked to the school as data for analysis. The experiment remained in orbit for 53 days, a total of 3005 photos were downloaded. The 2U NanoLab was returned to Earth on a Soyuz vehicle on March 16, 2011. An analysis of the experiment revealed that all system performed as designed. 41) 42)
NREP (NanoRacks External Platform) - A commercial hosted Payload Service
The NanoRacks EPP (External Platform Program) provides a commercial gateway to the extreme environment of space. It is an ideal location for Earth and deep space observation, sensor development and testing for advanced electronics and materials. 43) 44) 45)
The NREP delivers research results concerning biological testing, sensor target testing, satellite communications components testing, power systems testing, and materials testing. Delivered results will include, but are not limited to, data and payload return. The facility is equipped with its own power supply to distribute power to experimental containers. An internal computer system monitors and controls the flow of power to the containers, receives commands from on-ground users, and communicates research data to those users. NREP provides a unique opportunity for automated experiments that require vacuum exposure.
Airbus Defence and Space (former Astrium North America Inc.) of Houston, TX, is the designer and manufacturer of the Platform. The NREP (NanoRacks External Platform) will host payloads in the open space environment while attached to the JEM-EF (JEM External Facility). 46) There are a number of applications that the External Payload Platform provides, including: sensor target testing, biological testing, access to station power and data, flight qualification, materials testing, and more. The NREP will allow for high data rates, payload return, risk mitigation, and predictable and frequent service. 47)
EPP (External Platform Program) system: The size of the external payload platform and payload items is limited by constraints on handling the assembly on-board the ISS and on transferring it through the JEM airlock. The EPP dimensions almost fully use the allowable item envelope specified for the JEM airlock. The EPP flight unit external configuration is shown in Figure 27. A significant portion of the airlock allowed envelope is used by the grapple fixture interface required during the RMS operation and by the PIU (Payload Interface Unit) standard interface to the JEM-EF which is not shown in the figure. Therefore, the standard experiment payload size is 10 x 10 x 40 cm or 4U in the CubeSat standard. Also 1U, 2U, 3U, and multiples of the 4U shape are feasible. 48) 49) 50)
Figure 27: Photo of the NREP (EPP) flight unit including the JEM-RMS interface (image credit: Airbus DS, NanoRacks)
The NREP allows for various configurations with different standard sizes of payloads. An example is shown in Figure 28. Standard payloads have a width and a height of 10 cm and a length from 1U (10 cm) up to 4 U (40 cm). NREP is able to accommodate up to 9 4U CubeSat-size payloads outside of station with a standard mission duration of 15 weeks. The Platform continues to allow for NanoRacks' end-to-end mission services that are offered across all of The Company's space station opportunities. Also 1U, 2U, 3U, and multiples of the 4U shape are feasible. The payloads will interface to a standard sized interface plate suitable for up to nine standard 4U CubeSat sized payload containers (Figure 28).
Figure 28: Example of EPP multi-payload configuration showing the baseplate with combined 1U, 2U, 3U, and 4U payload items (view from bottom), image credit: Airbus DS, NanoRacks
Alternatively, EPP can be operated in the unique payload configuration for one single payload using the entire available volume as specified in Figure 29. In this case the single payload needs to be designed for the base plate mechanical interface on EPP. There is no mass restriction for standard payloads, but high density payload design can result in payloads with a mass up to 4 kg. The unique payload is limited to a mass of 35 kg.
Figure 29: EPP unique payload configuration (image credit: Airbus DS, NanoRacks)
Power Supply and Data Handling: The power supplied to each payload is limited by the heat rejection capability of the payload and restricted by the heat radiation allowed to be radiated to the inside of the EPP. The primary thermal interface between the payload and the EPP is through the base of the payload volume. There, a special silicone thermal gel pad covers the interface area between the payload container and the EPP base plate. This pad is attached to the payload on ground and covered by a removable paper to protect the gel pad prior to the payload on-orbit installation.
Payload data is transferred to the ISS infrastructure using a USB 2.0 standard power and data interface. The data stream is transmitted through WiFi/Ethernet based communication protocols to the NanoRacks subracks in the EXPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station) Rack 4 in the JEM-PM (Pressurized Module) via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). For this purpose a WiFi communication system is embedded on the EPP. This system utilizes an Ubiquiti/SR71 wireless radio which communicates with the EPP DHS ( Data Handling System) and generates the wireless signal to the ISS Wireless Access Point. The MIL-STD-1553B interface available on the JEM-EF is only used for the commanding and monitoring of the EPP.
Each active payload and the overall EPP status can be monitored online by the H&S (Health & Status) stream which is sent every second. Some bits of the H&S stream can be customized to the payload operator's requirements. The EPP payloads can be commanded after the commands have been processed by the NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center). The commands are uploaded using the MIL-STD-1553B standard. Payload data can be downlinked with the MRDL (Medium Rate Data Link) with currently 3 Mbit/s. This data rate is expected to be improved in the near future. The overall payload communication setup is summarized in Figure 30, standard payload resources in Table 4.
Figure 30: EPP payload communication and data flow implementation (image credit: Airbus DS, NanoRacks)
Table 4: Standard EPP payload resources
Platform Environment: The mechanical environment during launch and return is very much mitigated, especially regarding the shock loads to be expected, due to the transportation of payload canisters inside standardized CTBs (Cargo Transfer Bags). A very important aspect unique to the ISS operations is the vibrational environment originating from the ISS crew and ISS mechanical system operations. The station experiences a constant high frequency jitter vibration which superposes the rather low frequency drift. The jitter acts as disturbance of the microgravity conditions and needs to be taken in to account in the payload mission design.
Outside the ISS, the EPP is exposed to direct solar light, reflected solar light from Earth's atmosphere, infrared radiation from the Earth, and cosmic microwave background. Taking into account these thermal fluxes as well as reflections from the ISS structure and a solar beta angle variation of -75º to +75º a worst cold and worst hot case have been identified in the thermal analysis conducted as part of the EPP design activities. The worst cold case is a combination of all payloads being inactive with the thermal conditions of the worst case orbit, while the hot case is a combination of all payloads being active and radiating the maximum power of 30 W. Within these extreme cases, the payload wall temperatures vary between 222 and 339 K.
The ISS provides an exceptionally clean environment to external payloads. The external contamination control requirements limit contaminant deposition to 130 Å/year on external payloads and ISS sensitive surfaces. Measurements of contaminant deposition on ISS returned hardware have demonstrated that these requirements are indeed met at ISS payload sites. Contamination fluxes emanating from the ISS are assessed in several areas of the station, including the JEM-EF. The flux of molecules is limited by design such that at 300 K the mass deposition rate on the sampling surfaces is limited to 1 x 10-14 g cm-2s-1 on a daily average and will not exceed 1 x 10-6 g cm-2yr-1.
Viewing Conditions: The basic mission of the EPP Service is to use the ISS as payload-supporting platform comparable to a common satellite platform but benefiting from the extraordinary infrastructure of the station. The ISS is an ideal platform for various kinds of missions in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), but especially in the field of observation. The presence of the space station in LEO provides the opportunity for collecting Earth and space science data and to test space-related technologies in the relevant environment. From an average orbit altitude of about 400 km, details in observed features can be layered with data originating from orbiting satellites, to compile the most comprehensive information available. In its 51.6º inclination orbit, the ISS passes over roughly 85% of the Earth's surface and 95% of the world's populated landmass every 1 to 3 days.
A viewing assessment with the EPP installed at JEM-EF site No 4 shows very good visibility conditions10. Figure 31 shows the accommodation site of EPP on JEM- EF, while Figure 32 provides a fisheye representation of the view to the ISS port side with viewing obstructions, caused by ISS structures. The pathway of the solar arrays is indicated as light red circle. The starboard side view being symmetrical with respect to the available viewing cone, the analysis demonstrates that EPP is able to provide an optical access in a cone of 40 opening angle from forward to rear direction with respect to the nominal ISS attitude.
Figure 31: JEM-EF configuration analyzed with MCE payload installed on JEM-EF site No 8 and EPP on JEM-EF on site No 4 (Image credit: NanoRacks)
Micro-vibrational Environment: The microgravity environment on the JEM-EF is confirmed by JAXA to have very good condition and to reach approximately 10-6 g. However, this condition may be disturbed by atmospheric drag, exhaust gas from pressurized modules, crew activity, and ISS attitude maneuvers. There are 3 MME (Microgravity Measurement Equipment) sensor assemblies installed in the JEM-EF. The data measured shows accelerations from 200 µg to 0.01 g since the commissioning of the equipment in 2009. The results are shown and compared with the ISS microgravity environment specification in Figure 33. EPP is an ideal platform thanks to its excellent viewing conditions and low structural response to ISS jitter vibrations. Structural-dynamic simulations with the EPP performed with various kinds of payload configurations demonstrate the usability of the platform for remote sensing missions. The rotational response at the different EPP standard payload positions has been analyzed based on the acceleration environment measured on the JEM-EF ( Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility) by JAXA. Taking into account various EPP mission complements and payload eigen frequencies it is demonstrated by analysis that the rotational response around Nadir and other axes stay well below 0.01 arcsec (Figure 34). Due to the shape of the first structural eigen modes, EPP slot P4 is optimal with respect to rotations around the X-axis which is most relevant for line of sight vibrations in Nadir viewing.
Figure 33: Acceleration environment measured on the JEM-EF1 (image credit: JAXA, NanoRacks)
Figure 34: Frequency response in the rotational degree of freedom for the fully occupied EPP installed on the JEM-EF (image credit: JAXA, NanoRacks)
Payload Mission Opportunities and Use Cases: Table 5 gives an overview of the use cases envisioned for the EPP including an assessment of the suitability of the system for various payload missions. Due to its nadir viewing capability EPP is an ideal platform for any Earth-related remote sensing. Applications requiring zenith viewing, however, can be made possible with slight system modifications.
Table 5: Overview of external platform use cases
Table 6 compares the common utilization scenario with the commercial approach. One major change is the significant acceleration of mission preparations which is enabled by two factors. The commercial scheme rules out lengthy negotiations with the International Partners, because no payload sponsorship is necessary any more. The second and equally important factor is the simplification of the payload qualification. Since payload functionality is entirely the customer's responsibility, the testing and qualification philosophy remains unaffected by any third party interference. The reviews commonly held are reduced to one review only which is the safety review. Accordingly, the EPP Service only requires minimal information on the payload itself.
Table 6: Comparison of common and commercial ISS utilization
The further utilization of the ISS outside its classic role as low gravity and human spaceflight research platform is among the primary objectives of this new commercial service. A comparison with the dedicated spacecraft solution commonly pursued by small payload missions shows that this conventional solution does not necessarily result in an optimal compliance with the requirements in terms of orbit selection and space segment design. Furthermore, the dedicated spacecraft solution often has significant overall mission cost affiliated and the mission time line is very often affected by launch delays which is increasingly unacceptable for commercial service missions building upon revenues generated by the payload in orbit. Therefore, EPP and the utilization of ISS can be a good opportunity for conducting space missions in LEO on a low cost and fast track basis.
Launch: NREP was part of the payload launched on the Japanese HTV-5 (H-II Transfer Vehicle) on August 19, 2015 from TNSC (Tanegashima Space Center) in Japan. NREP is expected to be operational starting early spring 2016. 51)
Also on board of HTV-5 were 16 CubeSats, which include 14 Planet Labs Doves Flock- 2B, the University of Aalborg's AAU-SatX-5 and Gomspace's GOMX-3.
Launch: The launch of NREP was originally manifested on the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 mission, which was launched on Oct. 28, 2014 and experienced a launch failure; however, a delay of the NREP system saved the day for NanoRacks. The NREP is now manifested on SpaceX CRS-7, set to launch in June 2015.
Note: NREP was slipped to Orb4, and has since been re-manifested to fly on SpaceX CRS-7 since the Cygnus Orb-4 launch date is still in flux. The current launch date for SpaceX CRS-7 is June 13, 2015. It is launching with 2 payloads that are sharing a 4U payload enclosure. These payloads were contracted through CASIS, and are showcasing an electronics experiment investigating the effects of radiation, and a solar cells experiment testing different types of cell chemistry in the space environment. There are several other payloads currently being developed for a launch in the fall of 2015. Experiments currently in development range from Earth observation to testing of a corrosion inhibitor in the space environment. 52)
According to NanoRacks , NREP ,or simply the EPP (External Payload Platform), will start operations in the spring of 2016 on slot 4 of the JEM-EF. The platform is operated under the NanoRacks' Space Act Agreement with NASA and embedded into payload end-to-end services provided by Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS) and NanoRacks to commercial and institutional customers worldwide (Ref.48).
The small size EPP is an approach of a new kind to foster the utilization of infrastructure available on the ISS. With the end of the ISS assembly phase the exploitation of on-orbit resources for the contributing nations' scientific and economic benefit is extensively performed. However, further capacities in the station's infrastructure do exist which can contribute to the utilization if used efficiently. Therefore, it remains the driving objective for the partners and their affiliated industrial contractors to foster further opportunities to access the ISS and to promote the extensive use of the station as in-orbit laboratory for the benefit of the space community world wide.
The EPP is part of a commercial service covering the project development, mission preparation and management, payload integration into the ISS operations, and payload operations. This service is realized in a cooperation between the companies NanoRacks and Airbus Defense and Space -Space Systems in the United States with development and engineering services as well as payload business development provided by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany. The EPP Service represents a new approach to provide low-cost research infrastructure in the space environment. It transforms the station into a commercially available laboratory in space with the capability to support missions in various fields.
Platform Concept of Operations:
The launch of payloads to the ISS is a resource that is very well available for small size payloads transported in a pressurized environment among other resupply items required by the station operations. With the aim of providing a reliable and easy to prepare way of transportation to ISS, payloads are launched pressurized to the station and are installed into EPP within the JEM-PM (JEM Pressurized Module). A unique feature of the JEM-PM is its airlock which is used to transfer from the pressurized part directly to the JEM-EF supported by the RMS (Robotic Manipulation System) which is very efficient in terms of required crew resources.
Due to the high frequency of flights and the flexibility of the vehicle manifests the risk of a delay in the payload readiness can be mitigated by delaying to the next flight opportunity which on average is available not more than two months later. The launch within the system of ISS resupply flights introduces an unparalleled reliability of the access to low Earth orbit for small size payloads. The size of the payload items is limited by handling constraints on-board the ISS. Therefore, the standard experiment payload size is a multiple of a 4U CubeSat, which demands miniaturized hardware solutions. However, every payload can extensively use all ISS resources required: mass is not limited, power only limited by the payload heat radiation capability, the datalink is a USB 2.0 standard bus enabling a real-time and private data link connecting the ground operator directly at his desk.
The airlock is nominally operated once a week with a maximum frequency of two operations per day. EPP payloads will be exchanged on a periodic basis in consistency with the ISS operational planning. At a prescheduled time the crew removes the payload items from their CTB (Cargo Transportation Bag) and installs them on the EPP inside the Japanese module. When all payload items are installed, the crew places the EPP on the JEM airlock slide table to move it inside the airlock. - Upon inner hatch closure the airlock is depressurized in a time frame of approximately six hours. At completed depressurization and remote opening of the outer hatch the crew uses the slide table to further move the EPP outside the airlock and the JEM-RMS to take EPP from the slide table and to install it on JEM-EF. Alternatively, the JEM-RMS is able to point the fully equipped EPP into predefined directions while supplying power under the same conditions as on the JEM-EF. The small size EPP is manifested for the JEM-EF site No. 4 until the year 2020 (Figure 35). At this position, the platform has an excellent view into the nadir direction, power supply, data connection via the standard PIU (Payload Interface Unit) and video surveillance if required. The EPP Service is a full end-to-end service covering the entire mission (Table 7).
Table 7: EPP Service and Payload Mission Elements
Programmatic Approach and Mission Schedule:
The EPP standard mission scenario is designed to provide fast-track and reliable access to the ISS. In the nominal mission scenario payload items are installed not later than one year after the contractual agreement, stay in operation for 15 weeks, and are returned to the customer as an optional service. The nominal mission schedule in terms of time to launch (L) is defined in Table 8 together with the activities performed and deliverables to be produced by the parties involved. Compared to the current lead times to be expected in the standard ways to access ISS which are in the order of 27 months, the EPP mission scenario is more than twice as fast. Furthermore, the items required and processes involved as summarized in Table 8 show the paradigm change in ISS payload missions initiated by the EPP Service. The service provider only requires hardware qualification with respect to safety certification in the ISS Program and the verification of interfaces to the EPP system. As a fully commercial approach the EPP Service neither requires the payload developer to demonstrate functionality nor to justify mission performance. With this philosophy, the EPP Service reduces efforts required for review processes significantly and to increase the efficiency mission budgets are spent.
Table 8: Nominal mission schedule, tasks and items required from the involved parties
NanoRacks deployment services for small satellites:
On July 21, 2012, JAXA launched the HTV-3 module to the ISS. The J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) of JAXA was a payload on this flight along with five CubeSats that were planned to be deployed by the J-SSOD mounted on the JEMRMS (JEM- Remote Manipulator System), a robotic arm, later in 2012. The CubeSats were: RAIKO (Japan), FITSAT-1 (Japan), WE WISH (Japan), F-1 (Vietnam) and TechEdSat-1 (USA). The five CubeSats were deployed successfully on Oct. 4, 2012 by the JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide using the newly installed J-SSOD. This represented the first deployment service of J-SSOD.
• In October 2012, NanoRacks became the first company to coordinate the deployment of small satellites (CubeSats/nanosatellites) from the ISS via the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module. This deployment was done by NanoRacks using J-SSOD.
- The first NanoRacks customer was FPT University of Hanoi, Vietnam. Their F-1 CubeSat was developed by young engineers and students at FSpace laboratory at FPT University of Hanoi. The mission of F-1 was to "survive" the space environment for one month, measuring temperature and magnetic data while taking low-resolution photos of Earth. Note: NanoRacks worked with JAXA to deliver the CubeSat and comply to the J-SSOD standards. 53)
• In 2013, NanoRacks sought permission from NASA to complement the JAXA small satellite deployers, called J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer), with a larger model, NRCSD, provided by NanoRacks to hold larger and more satellites. This new NanoRacks deployer system, was designed, manufactured and acceptance-tested by NanoRacks and launched on the Orbital Sciences Cygnus CRS-1 flight on January 9, 2014. It permitted NanoRacks the subsequent release of 33 CubeSats of their customers, using the new NanoRacks deployer system with the JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulating System) of JAXA – to grapple and position for deployment (Ref. 59).
Figure 36: Illustration of the NanoRacks deployer system (image credit: NanoRacks) 54)
The NanoRacks CubeSats/nanosatellites are delivered to the ISS already integrated within a NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer). The NRCSDs can be stored inside the ISS until a deployment is requested. 55)
The NRCSD was designed by NanoRacks and built under contract by Quad-M, Inc. Each NanoRacks CubeSat Mission currently has 16 NRCSD's, with a total of 96U (6U per deployer). The NRCSD's were designed not only just to accommodate larger (longer) nanosatellites, but also to increase the deployment capacity per CubeSat mission.
The first set of NRCSD's was launched on Cygnus CRS Orb-1 on January 9, 2014. The NRCSDs were designed so that NanoRacks could deploy more satellites and larger payloads. The NRCSDs utilize the same facilities (infrastructure) as the J-SSOD (mounts to slide table via MPEP, passes through the JEM airlock, etc).
• The first CubeSats deployed were Planet Labs Doves (28 3U CubeSats). The deployments from Orb-1 occurred in February, 2014. While Planet Labs was the majority of the manifest, there were a number of other unique CubeSats on the mission. The deployers then come down from the ISS and are refurbished. NanoRacks then send another 16 up on each Orbital CSR mission.
Figure 37: The Flock 1A nanosatellites are prepared for deployment on board the ISS. The photo shows four NRCSDs (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployers), each containing two Doves (image credit: Astronaut Koichi Wakata)
Figure 38: Deployment of the first two Flock 1A nanosatellites from the NanoRacks deployer system attached to the Kibo robotic arm (image credit: NASA)
• The secondary payloads (Flock-1b, TechEdSat-4, MicroMAS-1, GEARSSAAT, and LambdaSat), launched on Cygnus CRS Orb-2 on July 13, 2014. They will be deployed from the Space Station using a deployment mechanism supplied by NanoRacks. The System uses the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) of the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) to which the NRCSDs (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployers) are attached. The dispenser holds up to sixteen 3U CubeSats and is attached to the MPEP that can be grappled by the JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulator System) and deploy the satellites in pairs upon command issued from inside the ISS or the JAXA Control Center in Tsukuba, Japan.
For a deployment, the platform is moved outside via the Kibo Module's Airlock and slide table that allows the JEMRMS to move the deployers to the correct orientation for the satellite release and also provides command and control to the deployers. Each NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) is capable of holding six CubeSat Units - allowing it to launch two 3U satellites or a number of 2U and 1U satellites.
Deploying CubeSats from ISS has a number of benefits. Launching the vehicles aboard the logistics carrier of ISS visiting vehicle's reduces the vibration and loads they have to encounter during launch. In addition, they can be packed in protective materials so that the probability of CubeSat damage during launch is reduced significantly. Also, once arriving at the Space Station, the satellites can be checked pre-deployment, making sure any damage is detected before committing them to flight.
In 2014, NanoRacks' commercial utilization of ISS is changing not just the perception of commercial markets in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), but the very behavior of NASA and the other ISS agencies. Skepticism and confrontation towards working side by side with a commercial company's self funded hardware and services has given way to commercial cooperation and shared resources. 59)
Table 9: List of the first CubeSat missions deployed by NanoRacks services 60)
Repair of the NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) system:
The deployer system, used to eject CubeSat-sized spacecraft from the ISS, broke down in August 2014, failing to release satellites when commanded. During the troubleshooting process in September, two satellites were inadvertently released. The deployers were returned inside the ISS through the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module in mid-September. 61) 62)
While NanoRacks, the Houston-based company that provided the deployers, has built new deployers to correct the problem, it worked with NASA and other ISS partners to also attempt to repair the deployers currently on the station. After several months of hard work, the NanoRacks team was able to make adjustments to the deployers.
The problems with the deployers were traced to screws that were not tightened correctly as well as issues with a power feed, according to Jeffrey Manber, managing director of NanoRacks. The repair work included installation of a new electronics system for the deployer and latches to prevent the premature deployment of the satellites. A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft delivered the repair hardware to the ISS in January 2015. The station's crew made the repairs and successfully tested the latches on Feb. 17, and planned to attempt satellite deployments in the week of Feb. 23, 2015.
Figure 39: NASA astronaut Terry Virts making the repairs to one of two NanoRacks' CubeSat deployers on the ISS (image credit: NASA)
Those repair plans took several months of coordination with NASA, Roscosmos, the Japanese space agency JAXA, and the Aerospace Corp., who NanoRacks had brought in to support the investigation of the deployer problem. "We had to go through a review process" with those space agencies, according to Manber. "There was some questioning about whether we should attempt this on-orbit repair, but NASA has been very supportive."
Manber said the company went through the time and effort of the repair process, instead of waiting to ship new deployers to the station, to demonstrate that the ISS is a "robust" platform for commercialization. He cautioned that there's no guarantee that the repairs will fix the problems with the deployers, but that the addition of the latches, specifically requested by JAXA, should eliminate any risk to the station from an accidental deployment of satellites.
Figure 40: Photo of the NRCSD system after the repair (image credit: NASA)
• On Feb. 27, 2015, NanoRacks began deployment from the International Space Station (ISS) of the remainder of our Orb-2 CubeSat Mission which includes 12 Planet Labs Doves. Of these Doves, ten are the remainder of Flock-1B launched on Orb-2, and two are the new Flock-1D' Doves, launched on SpaceX CRS-5 (January 10, 2015). 63) 64)
This was NanoRacks first deployment attempt since recent on-orbit repairs and the company is excited to announce a successful first deploy.
• March 11, 2015: NanoRacks is pleased to announce the successful completion of it's third full round of CubeSat deployments from the International Space Station. 65)
- Deployed from the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer were 16 CubeSats since the February 27, 2015 deployment window opened. Included were 12 Planet Labs Doves (10 Flock-1B, 2 Flock-1D'), Spaceflight Services and MIT's MicroMAS, San Jose University and Greece's LambdaSat, NASA Ames' TechEdSat-4, and the GEARRSat CubeSat.
Table 10: Some background of the NRCSD breakdown and system repair which caused considerable deployment delays for several customers. 66)
NASA/JSC (Johnson Space Center) in collaboration with the STP (Space Test Program) of DoD developed this dedicated ISS microsatellite deployment system named Cyclops - which is also known as SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems). 67) 68) 69) 70)
The system utilizes NASA's ISS resupply vehicles to launch microsatellites to the ISS in a controlled pressurized environment in soft stow bags. The satellites will then be processed through the ISS pressurized environment by the astronaut crew allowing satellite system diagnostics prior to orbit insertion. Orbit insertion is achieved through use of JAXA's (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Experiment Module Robotic Airlock (JEM Airlock), and one of the ISS Robotic Arms.
Cyclops operates from the JEM and takes advantage of the airlock's existing slide table. The launcher is stowed inside the [space station] for use whenever a satellite is ready to be deployed. Cyclops is placed onto the airlock slide table with the attached satellite and processed through to the external environment. Cyclops, with its attached satellite, is subsequently grasped by the robotic arm and taken to the deployment position. Cyclops then deploys the satellite and is returned to the airlock where it is processed back through and stowed internally for future utilization. The design utilizes the Japanese robotic arm but does have the capability to use the space station's main robotic arm if necessary.
Figure 41: Illustration of the Cyclops platform configuration (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)
The general Cyclops layout is shown in Figure 41. Cyclops interfaces with the JEM Airlock (AL) Slide Table, the ISS Robotic Arms, and the deployable satellites. It is being designed to be able to be utilized for the duration of the ISS mission for the deployment of microsatellites. The platform has a size of ~ 127 cm L x 61 cm W x 7.6 cm H, capable of deploying satellites of any geometry up to 100 kg, contingent upon the satellites meeting all Cyclops and ISS safety requirements. These requirements are under development and will be available from the ISS Program when completed.
Cyclops hardware components: Cyclops is a structural/mechanical system that consists of the following two major components: the Cyclops Unit and the Cyclops Unique Tools. The Cyclops Unit is the system used for airlock translation and deployment. The Cyclops Unique Tools, which are tools used by the crew for Cyclops setup, remain internal to ISS and ensure the Cyclops Unit is properly configured once the deployable payload is installed. The operational nomenclature or Op-Nom "Cyclops" is typically used to refer to only the Cyclops Unit, i.e. the deployment system that is moved and actuated by the robotic arm. 71)
The Cyclops Unit itself is comprised of the Mechanical Deployment Subsystem, the Retention & Release Mechanism and the Robotic Grasp Fixture Interface Plate.
The Mechanical Deployment Subsystem includes the Primary Deployment (pusher-plate) Mechanism, the IVA Preload Interface (for the primary system) as well as a back-up Secondary Spring Deployment Mechanism that will deploy the payload in the event of a pusher-plate mechanism failure.
Figure 42: Cyclops hardware overview showing its major components (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)
The RRM (Retention & Release Mechanism) is used to securely retain the payload during translation operations and to release the payload when the Cyclops Unit is actuated for deployment.
The Robotic Grasp Fixture Interface Plate enables robotic translation by the JEM Small Fine Arm (SFA) or by the SPDM (Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) as well as the initialization of Cyclops's deployment function.
Launch: The Cyclops was launched as a secondary payload of the SpaceX-4 CRS (Commercial Resupply Service) mission, on September 21, 2014. Cyclops was part of the soft-stow cargo allotment on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (Falcon-9v1.1 launch vehicle) of the SpX-4 (SpaceX CRS-4) resupply mission to the ISS. Cyclops will enhance the space station's satellite deployment capabilities. 72) 73)
Secondary payloads on the SpaceX CRS-4 mission were:
• Arkyd-3 is a 3U CubeSat technology demonstrator (4 kg) from the private company Planetary Resources Inc. of Bellevue, WA, USA, (formerly known as Arkyd Astronautics). The objective is to test the technology used on the future larger Arkyd-100 space telescope. The company has contracted with NanoRacks to take the Arkyd-3 nanosatellite to the ISS where it will be released from the airlock in the Kibo module. 74)
• SpinSat, a microsatellite (57 kg) of NRL (Naval Research Laboratory), Washington D.C.
• SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems). This launcher will provide still another means to release other small satellites from the ISS. This system is also known by the name of Cyclops and is described in the SpinSat file on the eoPortal. 75)
Note: Cyclops as well as SpinSat are described in separate files of the eoPortal.
SpinSat, an aluminum sphere of 558 mm in diameter and a mass of 57 kg, was the first deployment of Cyclops from the ISS.
• Successful deployment of SpinSat, using the Cyclops deployment system, from the airlock of the JEM, took place on Nov. 28, 2014 at 14:30 UTC into a 400 km orbit at 51.65º inclination. This was the first time a new deployment mechanism was used on the ISS to pave the way for future deployments of satellites of different sizes and masses using the robotics system of the Space Station.
- For the deployment, the crew of the Space Station (Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts) installed the satellite on the Cyclops (SSIKLOPS) deployer using a single bracket. The deployer was then installed on the slide table of the Airlock of the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) and necessary leak checks were completed before the outer hatch of the airlock was opened and the slide table was extended to allow the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) to grapple the Cyclops deployer. The arm was maneuvered to the proper position to release the satellite into a specific direction that ensures a safe departure path from ISS without any risk of re-contact on subsequent orbits. 76) 77)
Figure 43: Illustration of the Cyclops mounting concept onto the JEM airlock slide table with SpinSat as the first payload to be deployed. The slide table can be adjusted into any deployment direction (image credit: NASA/JSC)
- Once the SpinSat was deployed, the slide table was retracted and the outer hatch closed.
Figure 44: Left: SpinSat deployment from Cyclops; right: SpinSat photo shortly after deployment (image credit: NASA)
Kaber (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer System) - a microsatellite deployer on the ISS
The NanoRacks Kaber Microsat Deployer (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer) is a reusable system that provides command and control for microsatellite deployments from the ISS (International Space Station). NanoRacks developed the Kaber leveraging its experience deploying CubeSats from the ISS. The Kaber enables NanoRacks to support deployment into space of microsatellites in the mass range of 50 - 100 kg from the ISS. Kaber promotes ISS utilization by enabling deployment into orbit for a class of payload developers normally relying on expendable launch vehicles for space access. Microsatellites that are compatible with the NanoRacks Kaber have additional power, volume and communications resources enabling missions in low Earth orbit of more scope and sophistication. 78) 79) 80)
Launch: The Kaber deployer of NanoRacks was delivered to the ISS on the Cygnus Orbital ATK CRS-4 (Commercial Resupply Service) cargo mission (launch on December 6, 2015 (21:44:57 UTC) from KSC (Kennedy Space Center), Cape Canaveral, FL).
• The NanoRacks Kaber Microsat Deployer (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer) is a reusable system that provides command and control for satellite deployments via the JEM Airlock from the ISS.
• The NanoRacks Microsat Deployer has a mass of about 10 kg with approximate dimensions of 40 cm x 42 cm x 31 cm.
• Kaber maintains a mechanical and electrical interface between the satellite separation system and the International Space Station / Mobile Servicing System / Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (ISS / MSS / SPDM) and to the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) airlock slide table.
• The NanoRacks Microsat Deployer accommodates microsatellites up to a mass of 100 kg with approximate dimensions 95 cm x 83 cm x 64 cm (max).
Figure 45: Two perspective views of the Kaber Deployer System (image credit: NanoRacks)
Figure 46: Photo of the NanoRacks Kaber Microsat Deployer (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer) flight unit (image credit: NanoRacks, NASA)
Legend to Figure 46: This photo shows the black colored circular Kaber flange and box shaped Kaber housing. The brass colored robotic SPDM electrical interface is visible on the top of the Kaber housing. The gold colored microsquire fixture on atop the CLPA mate/demate wedge is the grapple point for the SPDM. Also shown in this photo is the white colored CLPA mate/demate wedge protective cover. Image courtesy of NanoRacks.
• The NanoRacks Kaber microsatellite deployer system is an on-orbit small satellite deployment system that will be used to deploy satellites from the ISS. Its deploy capabilities are similar to Cyclops, but it is designed to deploy payloads with the SPDM (Special Purpose Dexeterous Manipulator) utilizing the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) airlock and slide table.
• Payloads that are to be deployed by Kaber will be integrated with the deployer on-board the ISS by ISS crew members. The deployer/payload is then transferred out of the ISS via the JEM airlock. Once outside, Kaber will be retrieved by the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator) and moved to the appropriate deploy location. Once in the deploy location and orientation the payload is deployed.
• The commercial deployer system aims to address the growing market of customers wanting to deploy microsatellites from the ISS orbit. SIMPL (Satlet Initial-Mission Proofs and Lessons) of NanoRacks was the first microsatellite deployed through the Kaber facility (Ref. 80).
First Commercial Airlock Module on International Space Station
In May 2016, NanoRacks and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement in order to install a private airlock module onboard the International Space Station – the first in station history. The NanoRacks Airlock Module will be both a permanent commercial uncrewed module onboard International Space Station, and also a module capable of being removed from the space station and used on a future commercial platform.
NanoRacks has selected Boeing to fabricate and install the Airlock's PCBM (Passive Common Berthing Mechanism), which is used to connect most pressurized modules of the ISS – and is the most critical piece of hardware for the airlock. The PCBM hardware is being manufactured at the Boeing facilities in Huntsville, Alabama. Boeing will also provide additional engineering services required for developing and manufacturing of the airlock. 81) 82) 83) 84)
"This partnership is an important step in the commercial transition we'll see on the ISS in coming years," said Mark Mulqueen Boeing ISS program manager. "Utilizing a commercial airlock to keep up with the demand of deployment will significantly streamline our process."
Figure 47: Artist's concept of the NanoRacks airlock attached to the space station's Tranquility module (image credit: NanoRacks)
Commercial opportunities through Airlock begin with cubesat and small satellite deployment from station and include a full range of additional services to meet customer needs from NASA and the growing commercial sector. Currently, cubesats and small satellites are deployed through the government-operated Japanese Kibo Airlock. Additionally, the crew on board may now assemble payloads typically flown in soft-stowage ISS Cargo Transfer Bags into larger items that currently cannot be handled by the existing Kibo Airlock.
"We are very pleased to have Boeing joining with us to develop the Airlock Module," says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. "This is a huge step for NASA and the U.S. space program, to leverage the commercial marketplace for low-Earth orbit, on Space Station and beyond, and NanoRacks is proud to be taking the lead in this prestigious venture."
Beyond station, the Airlock could at some future time, be detached and placed onto another on-orbit platform.
The in-house team at NanoRacks, led by Mr. Brock Howe, will oversee the project management, mechanical and avionics design engineering, safety, operations, quality assurance, mockups and crew training, and the final assembly, integration and testing of the Airlock. Additionally, NanoRacks will be manifesting the Airlock for launch, with an estimated launch in 2019.
"The NanoRacks Airlock Module is the next logical step in the successful line of NanoRacks' commercial payload facilities," says Brock Howe, NanoRacks' Head of Airlock. "This Airlock Module will provide a broad range of capabilities to our payload customers and expand greatly on the commercial utilization of the Station – and I look forward to leading the team at NanoRacks on this next venture."
NanoRacks is also pleased to work with ATA Engineering Inc. on this project. ATA Engineering, of San Diego, CA, will lead the structural and thermal analysis, testing services and support of the airlock.
Payloads, including commercial payloads, deployed via the airlock will be coordinated through CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space), NASA's manager of the U.S. National Laboratory on the space station. All non-NASA funded payloads for the U.S. National Lab are subject to the vetting process CASIS has established (Ref. 83).
NASA anticipates the airlock will launch on a commercial resupply mission for integration in 2019, and will be located on a port in the space station's Tranquility module.
Attached to a separate port on Tranquility is another commercial investment — BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). This module is the first human-rated expandable habitat to be tested in space and has potential application for future habitation in low-Earth orbit and deep space.
The NanoRacks Airlock and BEAM are two examples of NASA's larger efforts to maximize use of the space station and advance commercial activity in space. NASA also issued a request for information last fall seeking additional interest on the part of private enterprises to use available unique space station resources, such as docking ports. As private sector partners play a greater role in this new economy, NASA is able to focus on its deep space exploration goals, including sending humans beyond the moon and eventually, to Mars.
Figure 48: Artist's concept (alternate view) of the NanoRacks airlock attached to the space station's Tranquility module (image credit: NanoRacks)
Status of Airlock Module:
• April 17, 2018: The NanoRacks Space Station Airlock Module "Bishop" met another major milestone with completion of the Critical Design Review (CDR) on March 20 and 21, 2018 in Houston, Texas. This milestone begins the transition from the engineering design phase to the fabrication phase. Detailed design drawings such as those for the critical pressure shell will be signed and released to NanoRacks fabrication partner, Thales Alenia Space, in order for them to continue their fabrication efforts. 85)
- In February 2018, NanoRacks announced that Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales and Leonardo, was chosen as the latest partner in its commercial airlock program, joining with a number of key partners, including Boeing.
- Thales Alenia Space is set to produce and test the critical pressure shell for the NanoRacks Airlock Module and will also manufacture various secondary structures, including the Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris (MMOD) shields with Multi-Layer Isolation (MLI) panels, the power and video grapple fixture support structure and other structural components.
- Other key features, such as the Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (PCBM), being manufactured by Boeing, require a long lead time and have been in production for over a year now. The PCBM will be delivered to Thales Alenia Space in May 2018 and will then be installed to the pressure shell.
- "I'm very proud of the NanoRacks engineering team and our partner, ATA Engineering, who performs the structural and thermal analysis for Bishop," says Airlock Project Manager Brock Howe. "This is a crucial milestone that required many long hours, and the team has been working together very smoothly. We're also very appreciative of our relationship with NASA and the International Space Station Program Office, as they have provided guidance and expertise in several critical areas. As always, there is plenty of work still to do – and we will continue to push forward."
- The next major milestone is the Phase II Safety Review scheduled for June 2018. The project is still on track to meet the SpaceX CRS-19 launch, targeting fourth quarter 2019.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).