Sunday, May 10, 2015

NASA Materials Experiment To Fly Aboard U.S. Air Force X-37B

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - A NASA materials science experiment will fly aboard the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane that is scheduled to launch on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, from from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  

By flying the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) investigation on the X-37B, materials scientists hope to have the opportunity to expose almost 100 different materials samples to the space environment for more than 200 days. METIS is building on data acquired during the Materials on International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which flew more than 4,000 samples in space from 2001 to 2013.

Researchers are flying some materials as part of METIS that also were tested during MISSE. Testing the same types of materials again can help scientists verify results obtained on the International Space Station, NASA said in a release. If researchers see different results between the same type of materials used on both METIS and MISSE, it would help scientists learn about the differences experienced in various orbital environments.

“By exposing materials to space and returning the samples to Earth, we gain valuable data about how the materials hold up in the environment in which they will have to operate,” said Miria Finckenor, the co-investigator on the MISSE experiment and principal investigator for METIS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Spacecraft designers can use this information to choose the best material for specific applications, such as thermal protection or antennas or any other space hardware.”

MISSE 2 PEACE Polymers experiment: a.) before flight, and b.) after four years of space exposure on the exterior of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Finckenor leads a diverse team of investigators from other NASA centers, aerospace companies, and universities. For both MISSE and METIS, the customers supply small quarter-size samples. METIS will fly a variety of materials including polymers, composites, and coatings. Finckenor prepares the samples for flight and helps with post-flight sample analysis.

This is the second experiment during Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 that has been revealed to the public. Last month, the U.S. Air Force made an unusual announcement that its secret X-37B space plane will host a Hall thruster experiment.