Featured Image Source: NASA
SpaceX is preparing to launch its Dragon spacecraft on a final flight to the International Space Station (ISS) during the upcoming 20th contracted resupply CRS-20 mission under their Commercial Resupply Cargo Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Dragon has been in operation for nearly a decade, the company is getting ready to retire the craft and replace it with an upgraded version known as Crew Dragon. CRS-20 is scheduled to take place March 6, a Falcon 9 rocket will liftoff on Friday at 11:50 p.m. EST. from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Falcon 9 underwent preflight preparations early this week. SpaceX announced, "Falcon 9 static fire test complete — targeting March 6 launch from Pad 40 in Florida for Dragon’s twentieth resupply mission to the Space Station, the final flight of the first version of Dragon."
Engineers performed a static-fire test to ensure the rocket's nine Merlin 1D engines work at optimal levels. Falcon 9 will carry the Dragon spacecraft to space with over 5,600 pounds of cargo for the Expedition 62 NASA astronauts working in the orbiting laboratory. A variety of cargo is onboard from equipment to conduct scientific experiments to vital tools and supplies needed on the space station.
We are three days away from the launch of @spacex's 20th resupply mission to the @space_station. Weather is currently 60% go for launch. 🚀— NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) March 3, 2020
Learn more about the science and supplies on board: https://t.co/ccUrfSNvWw pic.twitter.com/NI3XdSE746
Experiments conducted at the space station have helped scientists create cutting-edge technology and medical treatments that benefit everyone on Earth. SpaceX's CRS-20 mission will transport equipment to conduct the following research on the ISS Lab:
Studying the human intestine on a chip
Dragon will launch supplies needed to conduct an experiment that aims to find out how the effects of space travel and microgravity affect the intestines productivity. According to NASA, the experiment will be conducted via an Organ-Chip used as a Platform for Studying Effects of Space on Human Enteric Physiology (Gut on Chip) made by a biotechnology company that emulates human innervated Intestine-Chip (hiIC). NASA stated:
"This Organ-Chip device enables the study of organ physiology and diseases in a laboratory setting. It allows for automated maintenance, including imaging, sampling, and storage on orbit and data downlink for molecular analysis on Earth."
The Gut on Chip experiment will be mainly focused on the intestines susceptibility to infection and how the immune cells react in the microgravity environment. This kind of research could aid in protecting astronauts' health during long-term missions. Also, help develop therapies to treat people on Earth who have intestinal diseases.
Growing human heart cells
Equipment needed to conduct research to determine whether microgravity increases the production of heart cells from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) is also aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The experiment is called, Generation of Cardiomyocytes From Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors Expanded in Microgravity or MVP Cell-03 for short. NASA explains:
"HiPSCs are adult cells genetically reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like pluripotent state, which means they can give rise to several different types of cells. This makes them capable of providing an unlimited source of human cells for research or therapeutic purposes."
The MVP Cell-03 experiment will involve using stem cells that scientists induced to generate heart precurser cells, and culture those cells in the microgravity environment of the space station for analysis. Upon return from Earth, scientists will compare the ISS cultures to another cultures grown on Earth. The research could help doctors treat heart conditions caused by spaceflight. Cardiac tissue cells which are damaged by heart disease cannot repair themselves, researchers could also use their findings to figure out a way to treat cells that are lost or damaged due to cardiac disease for patients on Earth.
Technology to conserve water in the shower
Dragon will also transport to the ISS lab a research that aims to improve Delta Faucet’s H2Okinetic showerhead technology, which was developed to conserve water. Currently, the technology uses a method that reduces flow rate of water in order to conserve it, but researchers say that it could cause people to take longer showers and use more water. The experiment is known as Droplet Formation Studies in Microgravity (Droplet Formation Study), will analyze how the faucet's technology could be improved by evaluating water droplet formation and how water flows because gravity on Earth's effect on the formation of water droplets are unknown. NASA explains:
"Gravity’s full effects on the formation of water droplets are unknown, and research in microgravity could help improve the technology, creating better performance and improved user experience while conserving water and energy."
The results of this experiment will give technology developers insight to improve the water conservation technology used on Earth as well as potentially creating new technology to manage fluids inside spacecraft.
Adidas BOOST developing high-tech shoes by conducting research in space
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will carry an experiment to the ISS laboratory by Adidas. The experiment is called, BOOST Orbital Operations on Spheroid Tesellation for Adidas BOOST shoes, which aims to develop more comfortable, high-tech shoes for athletes. NASA explained that the shoe company Adidas uses this process "to make performance midsoles, the layer between the sole of a shoe and the insole under your foot, for its products. Using one type of pellet creates a foam with the same properties throughout the sole component. Using multiple pellet types can allow engineers to change mechanical properties and optimize shoe performance and comfort." So, the experiment will use the effects of microgravity to analyze the motion of multiple types of pellets during experimentation when molding shoe midsoles.
Developing better 3D printing
Supplies to conduct the Nonequilibrium Processing of Particle Suspensions with Thermal and Electrical Field Gradients (ACE-T-Ellipsoids) experiment will also be launched aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The experiment studies technology used for 3D printing in microgravity, ACE-T-Ellipsoids "designs and assembles complex three-dimensional colloids – small particles suspended within a fluid – and controls density and behavior of the particles with temperature." NASA explained that self-assembled colloidal structures "are vital to the design of advanced optical materials, but control of particle density and behavior is especially important for their use in 3D printing." The agency stated that:
"Microgravity provides insight into the relationships among particle shape, crystal symmetry, density and other characteristics. Functional structures based on colloids could lead to new devices for chemical energy, communication, and photonics."
The development of 3D materials in microgravity and devices that are capable to self-asseble and self-replicate could enable the creation of high-tech 3D printing of replacement parts and repair facilities on future long-duration space voyages. This technology could also benefit manufacturing process on Earth.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.