by Steven Siceloff for KSC News
Kennedy Space Center FL (SPX) Feb 17, 2017
NASA's first cargo resupply mission of 2017 is poised to lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida loaded with almost 5,500 pounds of science experiments, research equipment and supplies bound for the International Space Station and its resident astronauts.
The gear is packed into a SpaceX Dragon capsule that will fly into orbit aboard the company's Falcon 9 rocket. It will take two days for the Dragon to catch up to the space station and move within reach of the station's 57-foot-long robotic arm.
Astronauts Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency will use the arm to capture Dragon and maneuver it to its berthing port on the station. The uncrewed Dragon is pressurized so astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory can unpack the cargo and later fill it up with completed experiments and used equipment for return to Earth.
This cargo mission by SpaceX also will set a milestone as the first launch from Launch Complex 39A since the space shuttle fleet retired in 2011. It will mark a turning point for Kennedy's transition to a multi-user spaceport geared to support public and private missions, as well as those conducted in partnership with NASA.
Some of humanity's greatest adventures in orbit began at Launch Complex 39A. Astronauts lifted off from this pad six times between 1969 and 1972 to walk upon lunar soil. Flying inside Apollo spacecraft atop massive Saturn V rockets, the astronauts left Florida and the Earth behind for two weeks, while they ventured to the moon.
In 1981, it began hosting the world's first reusable spacecraft, NASA's space shuttles, on missions that would make working in space more accessible, while still achieving breathtaking science and accomplishing engineering feats that would have been out of reach before.
Some of the first pieces of the International Space Station began their operational lives with fiery liftoffs from the site including NASA's first station construction mission, STS-88 in 1998.
Although the majority of the supplies and experiments will be used inside the station, one of the major payloads of SpaceX's CRS-10 mission will be attached to the outside of the station to survey aspects of Earth's atmosphere.
The SAGE III project, short for Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment, is the latest version of an experiment that began in 1979 to carefully monitor and precisely measure ozone, aerosols, nitrogen dioxide and water vapor in the stratosphere and troposphere high above Earth.
SpaceX's CRS-10 mission will also carry the Raven experiment, an advanced instrument designed to test sensors and avionics that are being developed so spacecraft can autonomously guide themselves through space to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft.
Raven's two-year mission on the station will see it compare trajectories and calculations with the actual flight paths of the many spacecraft that fly to the station.
The Dragon also carries an experiment coordinated by CASIS that will crystalize a human monoclonal antibody that has been developed by Merck Research Labs to treat immunological diseases.
Crystalizing experiments on Earth have not produced high quality samples for study. It is hoped that larger crystals formed in the microgravity of space - where they won't collapse under their own weight as they grow - will show how to make the medicines usable in injected form instead of intravenously.
The SpaceX mission is expected to last about a month with the Dragon capsule being detached from the station by the robotic arm. The Dragon will fly the return flight path on its own as SpaceX and NASA mission controllers watch over its progress.
Flying into the atmosphere protected by a heat shield, the Dragon will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, where it will be recovered and its payloads dispatched to researchers.
Here are some highlights of the research headed to the orbiting laboratory:
Crystal growth investigation could improve drug delivery, manufacturing
Monoclonal antibodies are important for fighting off a wide range of human diseases, including cancers. These antibodies work with the natural immune system to bind to certain molecules to detect, purify and block their growth. The Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications (CASIS PCG 5) investigation will crystallize a human monoclonal antibody, developed by Merck Research Labs, that is currently undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immunological disease.
Preserving these antibodies in crystals allows researchers a glimpse into how the biological molecules are arranged, which can provide new information about how they work in the body. Thus far, Earth-grown crystalline suspensions of monoclonal antibodies have proven to be too low-quality to fully model. With the absence of gravity and convection aboard the station, larger crystals with more pure compositions and structures can grow.
The results from this investigation have the potential to improve the way monoclonal antibody treatments are administered on Earth. Crystallizing the antibodies could enable methods for large-scale delivery through injections rather than intravenously, and improve methods for long-term storage.
Understanding crystal growth in space could benefit researchers on Earth
Identifying proteins that benefit from microgravity crystal growth could maximize research efficiency
Currently, the success rate is poor for crystals grown even in the best of laboratories. High quality, space-grown crystals could improve research for a wide range of diseases, as well as microgravity-related problems such as radiation damage, bone loss and muscle atrophy.
X Prize-winning device seeks insight into how deadly bacteria become drug-resistant
Nanobiosym Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study (Nanobiosym Genes) will analyze two strains of bacterial mutations aboard the station, providing data that may be helpful in refining models of drug resistance and support the development of better medicines to counteract the resistant strains.
Microgravity may hold key to scaling up stem cell cultivation for research, treatment
During the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation, crew members will observe cell growth and morphological characteristics in microgravity and analyze gene expression profiles of cells grown on the station. This information will provide insight into how human cancers start and spread, which aids in the development of prevention and treatment plans. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of disease and injury in space, as well as provide a way to improve stem cell production for human therapy on Earth.
Space-based lightning sensor could improve climate monitoring
The Lightning Imaging Sensor (STP-H5 LIS) will measure the amount, rate and energy of lightning as it strikes around the world. Understanding the processes that cause lightning and the connections between lightning and subsequent severe weather events is a key to improving weather predictions and saving life and property. From the vantage of the station, the LIS instrument will sample lightning over a swider geographical area than any previous sensor.
Raven seeks to save resources with versatile autonomous technologies
Raven uses a complex system to image and track the many visiting vehicles that journey to the space station each year. Equipped with three separate sensors and high-performance, reprogrammable avionics that process imagery, Raven's algorithm converts the collected images into an accurate relative navigation solution between Raven and the other vehicle. Research from Raven can be applied toward unmanned vehicles both on Earth and in space, including potential use for systems in NASA's future human deep space exploration.
Understanding Earth's atmosphere health could inform policy, protection
SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.
Understanding these measurements will allow national and international leaders to make informed policy decisions regarding the protection and preservation of Earth's ozone layer. Ozone in the atmosphere protects Earth's inhabitants, including humans, plants and animals, from harmful radiation from the sun, which can cause long-term problems such as cataracts, cancer and reduced crop yield.
Studying tissue regeneration in space could improve injury treatment on Earth
Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human's inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30% of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic non-healing wounds.
Crew members in orbit often experience reduced bone density and muscle mass, a potential consequence of microgravity-induced stress. Previous research indicates that reduced gravity can promote cell growth, making microgravity a potentially viable environment for tissue regeneration research. This investigation may be able to shed more light on why bone density decreases in microgravity and whether it may be possible to counteract it.
For details about the SAGE III mission, go here
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