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Microgravity Science Glovebox Team Celebrates 10,000 Hours of Glovebox Operation
by Jessica Eagan
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Oct 04, 2011

The Microgravity Science Glovebox team sits on console at the Marshall Center and monitors the glovebox experiments performed on the International Space Station. (NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given).

The Microgravity Science Glovebox team has reason to celebrate. On Sept. 13 at 7:45 p.m. CDT, the science facility hit 10,000 hours of operation, orbiting high above us on board the International Space Station.

The glovebox, also known as MSG, launched to the station during Expedition 5 on June 5, 2002, on space shuttle Endeavour. It is located in the U.S. laboratory, and allows crew members to participate in the assembly and operation of investigations in space similar to laboratories here on Earth.

"Because the work area is sealed and at negative pressure, astronauts can manipulate experiment hardware and samples without the risk of small parts, particulates, fluids or gasses escaping into the open," said Ginger Flores, the glovebox project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"This facility offers a 9-cubic-foot work area accessible to the crew through glove ports and to ground-based scientists through real-time data links and video."

The glovebox can conduct a wide range of microgravity research, including fluid physics, combustion science, materials science, biotechnology, fundamental physics, and other investigations seeking to understand the role of gravity in basic physical and chemical interactions.

Once the crew sets up an experiment, the operations can often be done remotely from the ground, greatly increasing the productive use of the laboratory.

"This milestone is the perfect occasion to reflect on the success of the glovebox facility and the contributions of the team to a wide array of science experiments performed on station over the past nine years of glovebox operations," said Flores. "It is such a unique experience to work with payload developers from the beginning of design, to integrate and test their hardware right here at Marshall, and then support our astronauts as they operate that same experiment in space."

At the celebrated 10,000-hour mark, the glovebox was conducting the Capillary Channel Flow, or CCF, investigation.

"This experiment is a collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, and is designed to study critical velocities in open capillary flow under microgravity aboard the station," said Sharon Manley, investigation payload integration manager of the study.

"One of the many possible applications of the experiment results is propellant management. The goal of this investigation is to enable design of spacecraft tanks that can supply gas-free propellant to spacecraft thrusters - directly through capillary vanes - greatly cutting cost and weight, while improving reliability."

The current design of spacecraft fuel tanks relies on additional reservoirs to prevent the ingestion of gas into the engines during firing. This research is needed to update these current models, which do not sufficiently predict the maximum flow rate achievable through the capillary vanes, eliminating the need to overdesign tanks.

"The glovebox has proven to be an extremely flexible multiuser facility," said Dr. Mark Weislogel, principal investigator for CCF at Portland State University in Oregon and designer of a set of capillary channels.

"An open volume with essential levels of containment free up the investigator teams to design and construct either hand-operated or automated experiments of a wide range of sizes. The variety of experiments that can be performed is vast. The support from the MSG team is 24-7!"

The variety of the 23 investigations performed using the MSG include the Shear History Extensional Rheology Experiment, known as SHERE, which researched the effect of preshearing on the stress and strain response of a polymer fluid being stretched in microgravity.

Conducted in 2008-2009 with follow-on studies in 2011-2012, this experiment was important for understanding containerless processing, an essential operation for fabrication of parts using elastomeric materials on future exploration missions.

From 2007 to 2010, scientists used the glovebox to burn spacecraft materials as part of the Smoke and Aerosol Measurement Experiment, or SAME. This study measured smoke properties of particles from spacecraft fire smoke to provide data to support requirements for detection of smoke in space and to find ways to improve detectors in the future.

Additionally, a series of investigations studying complex fluids that are important for brake systems and robotics has been housed in the MSG. Named InSPACE - short for Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions - the experiments studied the particle dynamics of magnetorheological fluids - fluids that change properties in response to magnetic fields.

"Reaching 10,000 operational hours for the MSG facility is a tremendous achievement," said Ed Bermea, MSG facility operations lead in the Engineering Directorate at the Marshall Center.

"The entire team is a close-knit group, and the continual cooperation and hard work between the project office and the engineering disciplines is a large part of why this facility has operated well for so long. This operations team has shown extreme dedication through long hours, weekends and holidays. I am proud to be part of it."

The glovebox was developed by the European Space Agency and is managed by the Marshall Center. The three payloads, SHERE, SAME and InSPACE, are managed by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.


Related Links
Learn more about CCF and other studies performed in the glovebox
The Physics of Time and Space

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