Northrop Grumman Carries Technology, Scientific Investigations on Mission to Space Station


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A Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft scheduled to liftoff on April 17 carries supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station. It uses a new late load capability that allows time-sensitive experiments to be loaded just 24 hours before liftoff. Previously, all cargo had to be loaded about four days prior to launch, creating challenges for some types of experiments.

The launch on the company’s Antares rocket departs from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. This Cygnus mission is the 11th and final under Northrop’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-1 contract with NASA; a CRS-2 contract begins with a cargo launch in the fall. Resupply missions from U.S. companies ensure NASA’s capability to deliver critical science research to the space station and significantly increase its ability to conduct new investigations in the only laboratory in space.

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Here are some of the scientific investigations Cygnus delivers to the space station:

Models for Growing Increasingly Complex Materials

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-10 (ACE-T-10) investigates the growth, microscopic dynamics, and restructuring processes in ordered and disordered structures such as colloidal crystals, glasses, and gels.

Colloids provide ideal models for researching the fundamental principles of internal organization in such structures because their particles are small enough to engage in relevant phenomena, yet large enough for detailed study. Colloidal system interactions vary precisely with temperature and undergo a variety of transitions including crystallization and glass formation. Conducting the study in microgravity removes the effects of gravitational stresses.

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Better Life Science Research in a Few Drops

Bio-Analyzer, a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) instrument, enhances life sciences research capabilities on the space station. It performs on-orbit detection and quantification of cell surface molecules on a per cell basis, including blood cell counts, and assesses soluble molecule concentration in a liquid sample such as blood, saliva, or urine. Part of the Life Science Research System (LSRS), the Bio-Analyzer uses just a few drops of liquid – a finger prick versus a standard blood draw, for example – and eliminates the need for freezing and storing samples.

Analyzing Aging of the Arteries in Astronauts

Recent research suggest links between cardiovascular health risk, carotid artery aging, bone metabolism and blood biomarkers, insulin resistance, and radiation. Data also indicate accelerated aging-like changes in many astronauts on the space station, including changes to their arteries. The Space Environment Causes Acceleration of Vascular Aging: Roles of Hypogravity, Nutrition, and Radiation (Vascular Aging) looks at these changes using artery ultrasounds, blood samples, oral glucose tolerance tests, and wearable sensors. It is one of three related Canadian experiments studying the effects of weightlessness on the blood vessels and heart.

Testing Immune Response in Space

Tetanus Antibody Response by B cells in Space (RR-12) examines the effects of spaceflight on the function of antibody production and immune memory. Spaceflight has a dramatic influence on human immune response, but there is little research on how that affects the body’s immune system response to an actual challenge. Using a mouse model makes it possible to examine this question since the mouse immune system closely parallels that of humans.

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