Building on more than a decade of data from International Space Station (ISS) research, NASA is expanding its materials science research by flying an experiment on the US Air Force X-37B space plane, the US space agency said in a statement.
By flying the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) investigation on the X-37B, materials scientists will 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.
“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, co-investigator on the MISSE experiment.
“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,” Finckenor noted.
NASA research focuses on advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating technologies to enable human exploration into deep space through investigations such as the current one-year mission with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.
As it is difficult to simulate all the aspects of the space environment, testing materials for extended duration is particularly important.
Programmes across the aerospace industry, including NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, the James Webb Space Telescope, and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft have improved performance by selecting materials tested on the space station.
“Data from the space station and METIS materials experiments will improve the lifetime and operations of future spacecraft needed for NASA’s journey to Mars,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, Marshall’s chief engineer.