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NASA USRP - Internship Final Report 


ISS and Shuttle Payload Research Development and Processing 

Kyle A. Calhoun 1 

NASA/KSC/UB-G, Kennedy Space Center , Florida ; 32899 

NASA’s ISS and Spacecraft Processing Directorate (UB) is charged with the performance of payload 
development for research originating through NASA, ISS international partners, and the National 
Laboratory. The Payload Development sector of the Directorate takes biological research approved for on 
orbit experimentation from its infancy stage and finds a way to integrate and implement that research into a 
payload on either a Shuttle sortie or Space Station increment. From solicitation and selection, to definition, to 
verification, to integration and finally to operations and analysis, Payload Development is there every step of 
the way. My specific work as an intern this summer has consisted of investigating data received by separate 
flight and ground control Advanced Biological Research Systems (ABRS) units for Advanced Plant 
Experiments (APEX) and Cambium research. By correlation and analysis of this data and specific logbook 
information I have been working to explain changes in environmental conditions on both the flight and 
ground control unit. I have then compiled all of that information into a form that can be presentable to the 
Principal Investigator (PI). This compilation allows that PI scientist to support their findings and add merit 
to their research. It also allows us, as the Payload Developers, to further inspect the ABRS unit and its 
performance. 


I. Introduction 


^The Payload Development sector of NASA’s International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate 

(UB), led by David R. Cox, is an integral part in fulfilling the Fundamental Space Biology (FSB) Science Plan. The 
goals of the FSB plan are to solicit and then sponsor research that expands knowledge of biology adaption to space 
that will hopefully benefit plant functions on Earth, use the International Space Station (ISS), orbital vehicles, and 
ground based analogous facilities to conduct this research on, develop new hardware to meet the specific parameters 
on certain research to be conducted on orbit, and maintain the United States as a international competitor in 
biological research. Payload Development uses a specific process and various hardware to successfully complete 
these goals. 

A. Payload Development Project Life Cycle 

The Payload Development Project Life Cycle is the main process that is used to successfully complete the goals 
called on by the FSB Science Plan. The process consists of six stages and the duration of each phase can vary based 
on the maturity of the science that is being researched, how the experiment may be implemented, the hardware 
maturity, and what launch vehicle is needed to achieve a microgravity platform for the experiment. Tasks in each 
phase can be separated into three separate areas; science, hardware, and integration. These three areas of the 
Payload Development team must work together throughout all phases to successfully complete experimentation with 
verifiable results. 

The beginning stage of the Project Life Cycle is Pre-Phase A and has the main function of selecting a 
scientifically meritorious and technically feasible research proposal. NASA headquarters will begin by developing 
and releasing a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) to inform the biological science community of a 
microgravity research opportunity. After the release of the NRA, several competing Principal Investigators (Pis) 
submit their proposals to be reviewed by both their biological research peers and the Agency. Then the International 
Space Life Sciences Working Group (ISLSWG), consisting of representatives from various space agencies including 
NASA, ESA, CSA, CNES, DLR, NSAU, and JAXA, come together to determine what research proposal would 
satisfy the mutual interests of each agency and finally the selection and notification of the winning proposal is 


1 NASA USRP Intern, ISS and Spacecraft Processing, Kennedy Space Center, University of Florida. 


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made. Once the Proposal Assignment is given out, authority to proceed (ATP) is ordered to the Payload 
Development team to move forward into Phase A. 

The next step of the Project Life Cycle, Phase A, begins with a site visit of the Payload Developers to meet with 
the newly selected PI. In this meeting, the Payload Developers go over with the PI details of the Payload 
Development Life Cycle and what knowledge needs to be gained before the specific research is integrated into 
hardware and placed on a mission. To achieve this, the PI then begins definition experiments. These experiments, 
performed on Earth, will determine the spaceflight and biocompatibility of the plants with certain hardware 
materials, along with gaining vital statistics on ideal environmental conditions required to complete successful 
experimentation. Once the experimental parameters and specifications are defined fully, the engineering team can 
move forward by assessing if new hardware needs to be designed or if there is existing hardware that meets those 
experiment definition specifications. When all of the experimental requirements are determined to be compatible 
with hardware and integration onto a mission, ATP is given to the Payload Development team. 

Phase B is the development stage of the Project Life Cycle. During this stage, the PI works to develop the actual 
experiment that is to be flown on orbit. Once the experiment protocol and procedures are developed, the full 
experiment is conducted to verify that meaningful scientific results can be obtained and to trouble shoot any 
complications with the experiment. On the hardware side, engineers work to design and fabricate a prototype for 
the experiment housing hardware and then test to see if the plants are able to grow and perform within that 
hardware. If hardware that is determined to be compatible with the plants already exists, than the same verification 
tests, termed Science Verification Tests (SVT), are performed. Already existing hardware will be discussed later in 
the paper. While these development experiments and hardware fabrications are taking place, the Payload Developer 
begins work to find a mission that the research will be able to fly on, completes the first phase of a Flight Safety 
Review, and develops a Payload Integration Agreement (PIA) to insure the smooth transition from ground to flight 
research. A Ground Support Requirements Document (GSRD) is also drawn up to lay out what ground equipment 
and service will be needed to implement a successful experiment on orbit. Finally, when the SVT is completed, the 
Payload Development team is authorized to move ahead to Phase C. 

Following the development of the research and hardware, the Payload Development team moves forward to a 
verification stage, Phase C. During this stage the PI works to finalize and tweak his experimental procedure and 
then locks in his payload experiment design. The engineers on the hardware side fabricate the final hardware 
selected for flight and then proceed to begin Flight Certification Tests. These tests insure that the hardware is able 
to endure an orbital environment and also to make sure that it does not negatively affect the launch vehicle or orbiter 
to cause unnecessary or excessive risk. The project integration team during Phase C begins with making final 
selections for which flight the experiment will ride on, and insures its place on the manifest. They then work to 
complete Phase 2 of the flight safety review. This is followed by the development of an experimental timeline and 
crew procedures to successfully implement the experiment on orbit. When all of these tasks are completed by each 
division of the Payload Development team, the payload goes through a Payload Verification Test (PVT) and then is 
given a Payload Readiness Review before the team is authorized to move onto the next Phase. 

The next stage, Phase D, involves the actual integration of the payload onto the launch. The engineers continue 
with their flight certification tests which include testing thermal, acoustic, power, EMI, and weight properties of the 
hardware. At the same time, the integration team completes the final flight and ground safety reviews and 
personally trains the crew on working with the experiment and its respective hardware. Finally, the Biosafety 
Review Board (BRB) gives their approval for the payload to fly and last minute flight preparations are made. 

The final, and arguably most exciting stage of the Project Life Cycle, Phase E, includes the operations and post- 
flight analysis and reporting. This stage begins with the actual launching and implementation of the plant research 
payload on orbit. While on orbit, the Payload Development team makes sure that on orbit hardware and operations 
are being executed properly and address any anomalies or re-plans that take place. Once the payload samples return 
or the experiment is completed, the PI then has a year to complete their analysis and finally report their experimental 
results. This report is submitted to the Life Sciences Data Archive as well as various research publications which 
completes the Payload Life Cycle. 


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B. Payload Development Hardware 

Over the years, the Payload Development team has designed and fabricated several pieces of hardware to satisfy 
specific experimental requirements and mechanical/electrical limitations set by the launch vehicle. Having this wide 
range array of hardware inventory expedites the Project Life Cycle process by allowing the hardware engineers to 
bypass the design and fabrication of a new piece of hardware. A small selection of this hardware will be further 
explained in detail to portray the capabilities of the Payload Development team. 

A commonly used piece of hardware used for biological experimentation on orbit is the Biological Research in 
Canisters (BRIC). BRIC units are anodized-aluminum cylinders used to provide passive stowage for investigations 
studying the effects of space flight on small specimens. Many variations have been made to the original BRIC 
design to accommodate a wide array of experimental requirements. The most current variation has been the BRIC- 
LED which utilizes a accompany set of hardware, the Petri Dish Fixation Unit (PDFU). The PDFU serves as the 
holder for a standard 60 mm petri dish and has the ability to deliver a fixative or fertilizer to the sample within the 
petri dish. The BRIC-LED can house up to six PDFUs and requires just 6 watts to run. Holes on the lid of the 
BRIC-LED above each PDFU are used to insert the fixative or fertilizer using a caulk gun type actuator. The lid of 
the BRIC-LED houses red surface mount Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) that provide the biological specimen with 
illumination. A fan is also enclosed in the BRIC-LED to prevent samples from reaching temperatures out of their 
required range. Because of the BRIC simplicity and ability to be easily integrated into a launch vehicle, it has been 
the hardware of choice for relatively low requirement research. 

Another crucial piece of hardware utilized by the Payload Development team is the Kennedy Space Center 
Fixation Unit (KFT). KFT’s use formaldehyde, RNALater, and 
other chemical fixatives to “freeze” plants and preserve their tissue 
for inspection and analysis on return from flight. This means that 
biologist can experiment on plants that have lived their entire lives, 
from germination to termination, on orbit in microgravity. The 
genius of the KFT lies in its ability to contain level two hazardous 
chemicals and still be safe enough to be handled in a short sleeve 
environment, especially on the ISS. This is achieved by its unique 
three separate o-ring and chamber design, as seen in Image 1 . The 
KFT has become a vital tool for any biological research performed on orbit. 

C. Advanced Biological Research System (ABRS) 

My work this summer, which I will go into further detail 
later in this paper, consisted of analyzing data received from a 
veiy important and useful piece of hardware in the Payload 
Developer’s arsenal of hardware, the Advanced Biological 
Research System (ABRS) unit, as seen in Image 2. The ABRS 
unit has the unique capability of providing a very controlled 
and monitored environment and caters to research with 
extensive experimental and environmental requirements. The 
size of ABRS allows it to replace a middeck locker on the 
Space Shuttle. It also is compatible to fit into an ISS Expedite 
the Processing of Experiments to Space Station (EXPRESS) 
rack. ABRS can be used both as a primary and permanent 
facility or as an up and down transportation device for 
experimental payloads. There currently is an ABRS unit on the 
ISS that is not in use but is poised to house further research in 
the future. One of the great advantages of ABRS is its remote 
control and sensing capabilities. This allows for commands to 
be set up to the unit to change environmental conditions and 
also to monitor environmental conditions via data sensors that 
can be mimicked by the ground control ABRS unit. This means that the Payload Development team is able to create 



Image 2. Front view of an Advanced 

Biological Research System (ABRS) unit 
used for ground control experimentation 



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an identical atmosphere for the ground control unit with the only variable condition being gravity. The ABRS unit 
contains two separate Environmental Research Chambers (ERCs) which can function independently to provide 
several services including temperature control to 8 degrees C below ambient, controllable atmospheric carbon 
dioxide level, relative humidity control between 60-90%, chamber imaging from three cameras, and the Green 
Fluorescent Protein (GFP) imager. The GFP imager specifically has been successfully demonstrated to provide 
biological remote sensing and telemetric capabilities. This unit opens up countless doors in the world of space flight 
research and has huge potential to accommodate cutting edge research on orbit for years to come. 

II. Summer Internship 

About ten weeks ago I joined Dave Cox and 
the Payload Development team as an intern. 

Prior to my internship term, the team had been 
working and ultimately completing seven 
month long on orbit research payloads, 

Advanced Plant Experiments-Cambium 
(APEX-Cambium), using the ABRS unit. 

APEX-Cambium consisted of three separate 
research payloads, NASA sponsored 
Transgenic Arabidopsis Gene Expression 
System (TAGES), and the CSA sponsored 
willow and spruce tree experiments. It was my 

responsibility for the summer to analyze much j mage 3 View of the Arabidopsis plant used 

of the data obtained from these payloads to j n t j, e Transgenic Arabidopsis Gen Expression 

“ sis ' in the research being performed, ffAGES) research. Courtesy of the TAGES Research 

especially with TAGES experimentation. x eam 

Many challenges were encountered along the 

way but in the end a product was yielded that will allow the Pi’s to insure the validity of their findings. 



A. Work Conducted 

As mentioned, the majority 
of my work this summer 
consisted of analyzing the 
environmental conditions data 
obtained from the ABRS unit 
for the TAGES research. 
Throughout the course of 
experimentation, sensor nodes 
took temperature, carbon 
dioxide, relative humidity, and a 
slew of other measurements at 
eight to twelve minute intervals. 
This data was down linked to 
the ground control ABRS unit 
to be mimicked and provide for 
a true control with gravity being 
the only variable between flight 
and ground experimentation. 
My assignment was to take this 
data from both the ground and 
flight runs and compare to 
verify that indeed, 
environmental conditions were 
congruent over experimental 



Figure 1. Temperature as a function of Experimental Elapse Time 

(EET) for TAGES Run IB experimentation. Figure represents how data 
from the flight and ground unit was graphically compared and how change in 
data and anomalies were explained by the labels derived from the logbooks. 
The graph and labels are color coordinated to distinguish flight from ground . 
Courtesy of the TAGES Research Team. 

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elapsed time and then use the flight and ground logbooks to explain any anomalies or trends in the data. A view of 
what a typical graphical comparison of the flight and ground environmental data would look like can be seen in 
Figure 1. As you can see, events like shuttle launch, ABRS activation, and cooling loop purge can explain the rises 
and falls of the graph. Graphs similar to this, were drafted up for temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide 
levels for all runs of the TAGES experiment. 

B. Challenges Encountered 

Although the task at hand was ultimately completed, several complications and challenges arose as I worked 
more and more with the data. First off, the shear amount of data that needed to be combed over was a challenge in 
itself. With somewhere around one hundred different data sets taken every ten minutes or so for seven months 
straight, managing and compiling excel sheets with over six million cells proved to be a huge challenge. Another 
major challenge encountered was discovering that times of the ABRS data were calibrated wrong for some of the 
ground and flight unit runs. This made the linking of the logbook, which was time specific, to the data invalid. To 
calibrate back to the correct time I used specific data that indicated when separate runs began and ended as reference 
points. In the end I was able to match up the correct data to the logbook information within minutes of accuracy. 
Other issues included logbook information that simply did not make sense. Some events were out of order or 
duplicated, such as Run B coming after Run C or there being a Run D followed by another Run D. To elucidate 
these logbook discrepancies, I met with several of the engineers to go line by line through the timeline of events. 
Eventually, all was cleared up and an accurate product was attained. Although these challenges definitely slowed 
down the process of putting together figures to pass along to the Pis, it is my belief that encountering them was 
beneficial. Several of the problems gave us insight into some of the issues of the ABRS unit itself or the process in 
which the experiment was carried out, and the subsequent methods on how to solve those problems will prove to 
expedite the environmental data analysis in the future. 

C. Ramifications of Work Done 

One of the things I am most grateful for in regards to this internship is that the work I conducted this summer 
actually served a purpose as opposed to being asked to do something meaningless. With the graphical 
representations and comparisons of the environmental data, the Pis will be able to either verify or nullify the validity 
of specific experiments. It will also give them insight and explanation into why certain plants have certain 
characteristics in response to the environmental conditions they were grown under. This knowledge will ultimately 
allow them to publish their findings and advance the overall knowledge of plant growth and function in 
microgravity. Also, presenting the data in a way that is easy to evaluate and understand makes the Pi’s job much 
easier and improves their overall experience working with NASA and the Payload Development team. This 
satisfaction with the team potentially could encourage others in the science community to pursue space flight 
research. 


IIL Overall Experience 

All in all this internship has been one of the more enlightening experiences of my life. I have learned that there 
is a lot more involved in engineering than just math, science, and design. It requires you to work with people, come 
to compromises, and lead a group of people to a common goal. Biological research has a rich future in the space 
program as a whole, and I am honored to be a part of that while I was here. 

Acknowledgments 

I would like to first and foremost thank Dave Cox, my mentor for this summer internship. Dave could not have 
been more helpful and easy to work with. I greatly admire his passion for what he does and can only hope to enjoy 
my future career as much as he loves his. He personifies the true meaning of a great mentor by not only just leading 
me to what to do, but also opening up for my input. I cannot thank him enough for all of his support. 

I want to thank Chris Comstock and Janet Letchworth for taking me in my first week and making me feel at 
home. I would not have been able to survive those first couple weeks without them. 


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I would like to thank April Spinale, Matt Reegan, and Sergie Albino for ail the help with my data sheet and 
logbook issues and for graciously and patiently answering my nonstop questions. 

I want to acknowledge Robert Ferl and Anna Lisa Paul as the Principle Investigators for the TAGES Research 
and thank them for allowing me to use their data and images for my final paper. 

I want to thank Erik Holbert, Ralph Fritsche, and Jeff Beyer for keeping things entertaining and showing me that 
work does not always have to be so serious. 

I want to give a big thank you to the entire UB staff for making me feel like I was a part of the family. 

Finally, I would like to thank NASA KSC, USRP, and UB for the graciously giving me opportunity of a lifetime. 
Lessons I have learned this summer will have an effect on me for the rest of my life and I could never be grateful 
enough for giving me this opportunity. 


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