|Posted on Mar 02, 2011 01:09:40 PM | Jessica Nimon | 0 Comments ||
Original Post March 02, 2011
This week, comments from guest blogger and International Space Station National Laboratory Manager Marybeth Edeen, as she reflects on ways to help researchers reduce the time from concept to implementation for space station experiments.
Have you ever heard complaints about how long it takes to fly investigations in space? There has been a lot of discussion about how long it takes to get research from concept to implementation. Numerous people will tell you that it cannot be done in under 1 year or even as long as 5 years. With recent changes put in place with the National Laboratory Office, however, we have been successful in getting payloads from concept to implementation in as little as 6 months.
The National Laboratory Office guides payload developers through a feasibility process to evaluate research ideas to determine how quickly the station could accommodate a given payload. The first step is a triage meeting, where the research team and the payloads office experts discuss a concept to determine the complexity of the research. Depending on the intricacy, we can guide the developers to use systems that are already in place, which can significantly speed up getting the research aboard the station. In many cases, we are able to slip the developer payload into a prepared research plan, using placeholders we have prepared in advance. The research plan placeholders have certain capabilities (e.g., size, weight, etc.) set aside to reserve predefined spots for payloads. This way, when the time comes, we can determine which new payloads fit into the placeholders.
Additionally, the Payloads Office has a “lean process,” which enables payloads to go through the integration process and be put on orbit ready for operations in as little as 6 to 7 months; from the time it was identified as available for launch. The National Laboratory Office sponsored some payloads that went into orbit in as little as 6 months, but that is not the norm at this time. A developer is already in the assembly process on their end for the payload, rather than in the development stage of their idea. An amazing turnaround like this is for known re-flight science, not for new payloads being assembled.
What we are trying to do with National Lab is to use the processes and manage the integration in such a way that we can bring things in later than the normal flow. This is contingent on the National Laboratory model of the commercial or government agency having their funding and development ready to bring to the table. If they are waiting for anticipated funds to move forward with development, this significantly delays the progress.
This image shows six seed wells inside of the NanoRacks-CubeLabs 6-plant
growth chamber, a student-designed investigation by Valley Christian High
School in San Jose, CA.
(Image courtesy of Werner Vavken)
One such developer who succeeded in an accelerated timeline was the NanoRacks-CubeLabs team. The proposal for this commercially sponsored payload was submitted in July of 2009. A Space Act Agreement was signed in September and by December of the same year, they had hardware delivered to the KSC for launch. The developer team had already gone into the design work before approaching NASA, but had not built the hardware at that point. They entered hardware production in parallel with the integration process in order to get the hardware certified for flight by December.
On our side, the National Laboratory Office is trying to shorten the templates and build flexibility into the process. We want to enable developers to determine their final plan later in the process, when necessary. There are only so many payloads you can run through the process this way, however, to avoid delaying the details of the planning for everyone involved. We have to prepare our research plans 18 months in advance, so we look at this and say: “hmm, there are three guys wanting this type of experiment, let’s toss in a placeholder for that” or “this group has been talking to us frequently, has their funding lined up, and seems pretty serious.” We are trying to identify and create spots for payloads that are likely to show up in 18 months ready to go. Rather than advertising these placeholders, we try to identify them and fill them according to the interest we see on the horizon. We take an educated guess when creating these placeholders to prepare for our research ahead.
On the National Laboratory Web page, under Key Resources, payload developers can find the heading of Helpful Documents where our lean process documentation will post. We also posted the Payload Developers and Principal Investigators Payload Planning, Integration and Operations Primer, so that researchers know what NASA needs from them at which times and why. This gives people an idea of what to bring to the table before they talk to us, allowing them to move more swiftly through the process. This primer also cites changes for those using the lean process, to help save time. More documents are continuing to post—some are still going through the approval processes—so interested developers should continue to check back. This lean process is new, so we are beta testing the documented process. Once we have been through it a few times, we can make changes and continue to improve it.
The completion of ISS gives the crew a lot more time to work science, so the faster we can get things up, the more science they can do. Also, there is more available upmass on the transport vehicles to transport resources for experiments. It opens up more opportunities for our payload developers, especially if using existing hardware already on orbit. If you are interested in doing research on station, give us a call. We are always open and looking for feedback in our processes to make them simpler and more user friendly for our researchers, so they can continue to get their results in a timely manner and make great discoveries to benefit us all.
Marybeth Edeen is the manager of the ISS National Lab Office. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Rice University. She has worked at NASA for 24 years.
Tags : General, Guest Bloggers, ISS as a Laboratory