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NEWS | June 6, 2011

NRL's MISSE-8 Launched Aboard STS-134

By Donna McKinney

When the space shuttle Endeavour launched on May 16 for its final voyage to the International Space Station (ISS), it carried with it the 8th Materials on the International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8), designed and built by the Naval Research Laboratory. The experiment tests new materials in the harsh environment of space.

NRL's Electronic Sciences & Technology Division, working with NRL's Spacecraft Engineering Division, integrated eight different experiments into an astronaut-deployable package. MISSE-8 replaces two Passive Experiment Containers (PEC) of the 7th Materials on the International Space Station Experiment (MISSE7) and uses the remaining infrastructure to supply power and data links to Earth. The MISSE7 experiments will be returned to earth for further evaluation and the MISSE-8 experiments that replace them will remain on orbit until at least February of 2013.

MISSE-8, built under the Air Force Space Test Program (STP), is a collaboration of the DoD, NASA, DOE, and various industrial and university partners. MISSE-8 consists of a suitcase-like structure known as a PEC and a separate plate holding optical samples. The MISSE-8 hardware is installed on the exterior of the International Space Station by astronauts during what is known as an Extra Vehicular Activity, or EVA. The PEC is opened and exposes one set of samples in the zenith direction (space-facing) and the other nadir (earth-facing). The plate is mounted facing into the direction of motion (ram) and its opposite faces the wake direction.

The eight new experiments on the MISSE-8 platform are built by a number of government, industry and university investigators:

The Third Forward Technology Solar Cell Experiment (FTSCE) III

This experiment characterizes advanced technology solar cells for space applications. Constituent technologies include III-V based inverted metamorphic solar cells, epitaxial lift-off III-V solar cells, thin-film a-Si solar cells, advanced coverglass material, and solar cell interconnect technology. This experiment was built by NRL and the NASA Glenn Research Center. Samples were provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Space Vehicles Directorate, and the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The on-orbit data expected from this flight is critical for effective technology development and future technology transition to operational use. Applications of the data include validating ground test protocols and assessing LEO environmental effects (atomic oxygen, ultraviolet radiation, thermal cycling, etc.). In addition to reducing risk to future spacecraft, flight-testing these samples will reduce research and development risk through early technology assessment for space operation.

The Third Optical Materials Experiment (ORMatE-III)

The 3rd Optical Reflector Materials Experiment (ORMatE-III) is a collaborative effort among The Aerospace Corporation, NRL, and the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials Directorate (AFRL/ML). ORMatE-III is a study of optically reflective materials focused on SiC for use as a lightweight mirror substrate. Several types of SiC material grown by different methods and vendors are included as well as diverse coating materials and deposition techniques. Advanced glass substrate technologies, like ULE and corrugated borosilicate, are also on-board.

Ferroelectric Reflectarray Critical Components Space Experiment (F-Recce)

F-Recce was developed by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, to accelerate mission insertion opportunities for a new type of phased-array antenna - an antenna that can redirect its main beam without physically repositioning itself. Conventional parabolic reflectors require a sophisticated mechanized gimbal system to steer the beam. This can be a prohibitively slow process plus all mechanical systems in space potentially suffer reliability problems because of the harsh environment. F-Recce will characterize critical components associated with NASA Glenn's reflectarray antenna system, including NASA Glenn invented thin film ferroelectric phase shifters, as a prelude to a fully functional space demonstration in a Low Earth Orbiting environment. Applications include: inter-satellite communications links, space-based radar/precipitation radar, docking and rendezvous, landing terrain radar, automotive collision avoidance radar, and others. The conditions of space are harsh and it is not easy to reproduce the combined environments to measure the effects of particle radiation, atomic oxygen, thermal cycling and ultraviolet conditions in labs.

Marshall Spacecraft Materials Experiment

The Marshall Space Flight Center is flying nearly a hundred passive samples on MISSE-8. Our focus on the earlier MISSE experiments was sustaining engineering for the International Space Station, said Miria Finckenor, MISSE lead engineer for Marshall. While we still have samples for monitoring atomic oxygen erosion, contamination, and material performance on ISS, we added new thermal control coatings, heatshield materials, and solar array materials. Also on MISSE-8 are more environmentally-friendly spacecraft components, multi-layer insulation, part markings, and innovative polymers including thin films for lunar dust mitigation.

Boeing Phantom Works Experiment

Boeing designed a computer-controlled suite of experiments for the MISSE-8 / PRELSE package integrated into a volume less than 3 pounds. The Boeing control electronics provide active measurements to be telemetered back to earth and used by technologists with minimal delay. The active experiments include monitoring a high-density memory chip response to the space environment, thin film and solar cell responses as well as the behavior of a novel on-board antenna. This package suite also includes passive experiments gauging the long-term mechanical and electrical response of the materials on-board to the total environment exposure, which will be assessed upon return and compared against the local on-board Boeing monitoring for space radiation, oxidation levels and solar exposure.

The Primary Arcing of Solar Cells At Low earth orbit experiment (PASCAL)

The Primary Arcing of Solar Cells At Low earth orbit experiment (PASCAL) is supplied by Lockheed Martin, Kyushu Institute of Technology, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and controlled by LM Space Systems Company in Newtown, Pennsylvania. PASCAL will study the cumulative effects of low power electrostatic discharges on the operating characteristics of a number of modern space solar cell technologies by observing the following:
  • Solar cell performance degradation as a function of number of arcs.
  • Solar cell performance degradation as function of primary arc energy.
  • Arc waveform shapes.
  • Arcing inception / onset voltages for solar cell designs.
Zenith Electronics and Polymer Exposure Experiment (ZEPEE)

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company Newtown is also collaborating with NASA GRC and NRL in supplying passive experiments for the Zenith Electronics and Polymer Exposure Experiment (ZEPEE):

MIT Lincoln Laboratory (MITLL) has prepared passive modules which contain a variety of advanced electronics technologies developed at the laboratory including unique high-performance imagers, 3D integrated circuits, advanced low-power electronic circuits, and micro-electromechanical devices.

Three prototype satellites-on-a-chip designed and built by Professor Mason Peck and his research team at Cornell University, who anticipate a next-generation, free-flying version weighing only tens of milligrams. Each 1-inch square chipsat includes solar cells, power storage, an on-board computer, radios, and antennas.

Second Single Events Upset Xilinx-Sandia Experiment (SEUXSE-II)

SEUXSE II (pronounced Suzy two) is the Single Events Upset Xilinx-Sandia Experiment and incorporates the latest in Xilinx field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) -the rad tolerant Virtex 4 (QPro-V, FX60) and rad hard Virtex 5 (V5QV) parts. This is the first flight of the rad-hard by design, V5 chip. SEUXSE takes advantage of the power and real time telemetry provided by the space station to monitor device upsets in the Virtex parts due to ionizing high-energy particles, particularly those experienced during the ISS flight through the South Atlantic Anomaly. SEUXSE results will be paired with data collected from the ISS charged particle radiation detectors to understand how space weather affects high performance space based computing.

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