Loaded with science, supplies, SpaceX freighter ready for launch to space station

Technicians perform final preparations on the IROSA solar panels before loading into SpaceX Cargo Dragon capsule. Photo courtesy of NASA
1 of 4 | Technicians perform final preparations on the IROSA solar panels before loading into SpaceX Cargo Dragon capsule. Photo courtesy of NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 2 (UPI) -- A freighter carrying solar panels to boost the International Space Station's electrical reserves for scientific activities, equipment to collect data on solar storms and the thawing of Earth's arctic permafrost is ready for launch to the International Space Station on Saturday.

If the weather cooperates, liftoff will come at 12:34 p.m. EDT from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Space Force forecasters are predicting only a 30% chance of favorable conditions, however.


If the launch is delayed, mission controllers could try again on Sunday, but that would have the same 30% chance of not violating weather constraints that include heavy cumulus cloud cover and flying through precipitation.

An additional delay, putting the planned launch on Monday, gives more hope, with a 50% chance of beating the weather.

All supplies are stored aboard a Cargo Dragon capsule launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into an orbit that culminate in docking with the space station Monday.


The spacecraft will deliver new scientific investigation gear, food and equipment for space station crews. Currently living aboard are seven crew members from three nations: the United States, Russia and United Arab Emirates.

The twin solar panels, known as IROSA, short for International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays, come with springs to unfurl them after astronauts install them on the station.

Once deployed, the panels will boost the power needed to carry out research operations by 20% to 30%.

The extra power they will provide is needed to perform and validate a variety of experiments and scientific investigations. Far bigger, and more numerous solar arrays support the station's main power systems.

This resupply mission is delivering instrumentation and other research equipment sponsored by the International Space Station National Laboratory.

They encompass regenerative medicine research and student-led genetic experiments. Particularly involved in the student-led Genes in Space competition is student Pristine Onuoha, who attends East Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Her project was inspired by telomeres, research scientist and student mentor Ally Huang, an MIT biological engineering graduate, said during a May 30 NASA teleconference.

Pristine, who won the eighth Genes in Space STEM competition. Her experiment will be performed by astronauts aboard the space station next year.


"Telomeres are genetic structures, sort of microscopic caps, protecting our genetic material. It turns out that on Earth, telomeres shorten with age," Huang explained.

That inspired Pristine, when she realized that the exact opposite occurs in space, as NASA investigations showed. Her suggestion was to look at methods for measuring the length of DNA fragments.

"That's pretty important in a lot of different biological applications, such as diagnostics, or just understanding biological mechanisms, and these applications can be really relevant to space," Huang said.

Since those measurements are difficult to perform in space, Pristine's experiment may validate means of measuring and analyzing the length of synthetic DNA on the station.

The experiment involves fluorescent samples carried aboard the station to be observed and analyzed by eye.

"And we hope that these experimental findings can provide the baseline research needed for future research investigations from Pristine for astronauts' telomere elongation, Huang said.

As for the lifespan of satellites, it often depends on the quality of their orientation mechanisms. Even a slight degradation can be fatal, especially when solar panels stop getting enough sunlight, or the onboard liquid fuel freezes.

Improvised and sometimes quite astute techniques saved even a billion-dollar spacecraft in the past. However, now there are innovations that engineers want to test in space.


They are sophisticated sets of mathematical rules, known as algorithms and should make it possible to change the operation of spinning orientation wheels.

That would help the satellite overcome positioning problems, thus the need to validate the theoretical solution in space.

Improvements to environmental observations may come by studying permafrost thawing in northernmost regions of Canada. Scientists want to understand how those environmental conditions may affect Earth's climate so they can help planning and better support local infrastructure planning.

Tiny research satellites called CubeSats, will help in the observations by measuring the effects from energetic protons emitted by the sun.

The Japanese Space Agency will collaborate in these studies and research by releasing a number of detectors and observation instruments directly from its own space station module's outer porch.

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