NRL Experiments Transition Flawlessly Aboard ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) installed NRL’s Limb-Imaging Ionospheric and Thermospheric Extreme Ultraviolet (UV) Spectrograph (LITES), and Global Positioning System (GPS) Radio Occultation and Ultraviolet Photometer Co-located (GROUP-C) research instruments Feb 28.

The payload was delivered via SpaceX’s FALCON 9 rocket Feb. 17, and later retrieved by a robotic-arm aboard the ISS. After several days of installation, payload managers and the DoD Space Test Program successfully performed tests to confirm the instruments functioned properly.

GROUP-C and LITES are mounted on the DoD Space Test Program's (STP) STP-H5 platform. The STP Houston branch built and managed the platform, which enables mounting experiments outside the ISS and provides power and communications to those experiments.

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Once the STP-H5 payload entered space in range of the International Space Station, a robotic arm grabbed the experiments to initiate its installation. (Photo credit : International Space Station)

“When we successfully received the first telemetry at NRL from our sensors aboard the ISS, I felt immediate relief that our instruments survived the ride to space and were functioning, followed by pride that the years of hard work by our capable experiment team had paid off,” said Dr. Andrew Stephan, lead investigator of LITES.

Operation of GROUP-C and LITES have gone according to plan, and show no signs of mission deviation. LITES has a detector sensitive to humidity, protected by a sealed door and under vacuum while on the ground. After LITES sensor arrived in space the door was opened with an electrical signal to a pin-puller, freeing the detector for utilization.

Stephan and lead investigator of GROUP-C, Dr. Scott Budzien, are extremely confident in the capabilities of their experiments.

“We can complete our primary objective to demonstrate these sensors and measurement techniques well within a year,” said Budzein. “But the longer we operate, the better chance we have of seeing scientifically interesting events in the space environment, helping us answer questions about the modes of variation in the ionosphere.”

According to Stephan and Budzien, If the experiments operate at their full duration of two-years, they will have a chance to co-operate with two major NASA missions: the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) and the Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD), both anticipated to launch this year.

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