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'SPHERES' Tether Slosh Flight Hardware Delivered to Cargo Mission Contract for SpaceX CRS-13 Launch December 4th
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'SPHERES' Tether Slosh Flight Hardware Delivered to Cargo Mission Contract for SpaceX CRS-13 Launch December 4th

The Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) project has delivered the SPHERES Tether Slosh flight hardware to the Cargo Mission Contract for launch on SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission 13 (CRS-13) on December 4th. The SPHERES Tether Slosh investigation will take hardware from different projects and make efficient reuse of already existing hardware by combining hardware for an entirely new investigation.

Using two SPHERES satellites pulling a liquid sloshing tank inside the International Space Station’s (ISS) Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), the combined hardware will be used to investigate fluid dynamics and modeling techniques related to liquid sloshing in space vehicles. Acceleration data measurements will be taken via the Airbus-developed European Space Agency (ESA) / DLR (German space agency) WIreless SEnsor NETwork (WISENET) system, which will transfer the data via the MagVector facility in the Columbus Laboratory on ISS directly to the Engineering Support Center at Airbus Defense and Space (DS) in Bremen. At the same time, the SPHERES-generated data will be routed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA Ames.

Project teams stretch from Airbus DS Bremen and ESA’s Columbus Control Center (Col-CC) in Oberpfaffenofen, Germany, to the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), NASA Kennedy Space Center, ISS teams and Airbus DS Space Systems in Houston, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center’s Payload Operations Integration Center (POIC) in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA Ames in California. At the Agency level — as an excellent example of international and interdisciplinary cooperation — it involves NASA and ESA/DLR assets in consideration of an Increment 48-49 ISS top-four crew recommendation to “Promote cross-agency use of experiment facilities through funding joint efforts, continue to encourage scientific collaboration, and reduce barriers to using International Partnership (IP) core facilities”.

Due to the incredible support received from the entire team, this milestone was able to be met only five months after the ISS and Airbus DS teams had their formal kickoff.

BACKGROUND: SPHERES are bowling ball-sized spherical satellites with power, propulsion, computers, and navigation that can be used for inspections, maintenance, spacecraft assembly, and other intravehicular operations. ISS has been using three of them to conduct science and test a diverse array of hardware and software for more than a decade.

The SPHERES Tether Demonstration project onboard ISS will help with understanding tethering dynamics to capture loose objects and “space tug” chase vehicles in zero gravity. With this new capability, researchers will be able to improve computer programs and modeling needed for free-flying satellites to remove space debris and capture scientific samples from planetary objects on future deep space missions. The SPHERES Tether is a new integrated payload designed and developed by Airbus DS in collaboration with NASA and the MIT. After completing thorough research and development phases, the Tether hardware was launched April 8, 2016, on the SpaceX CRS-8 mission to ISS. On December 1, Expedition 50 crew members, Commander Shane Kimbrough and European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, performed a successful SPHERES Tether Checkout test session with two different tethers - a nylon monofilament and a Kevlar thread.

The SPHERES Slosh investigation examines the way liquids move inside containers in a microgravity environment. The phenomena and mechanics associated with such liquid movement are still not well understood and are very different than our common experiences with a cup of coffee on Earth. Rockets deliver satellites to space using liquid fuels as a power source, and this investigation plans to improve our understanding of how propellants within rockets behave in order to increase the safety and efficiency of future vehicle designs.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: SPHERES is funded by the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD).

ARC SPHERES TEAM: Jonathan Barlow, Jose Benavides, Jose Cortez, Robert Hanson, Simeon Kanis, Aric Katterhagen, Don Soloway, and Andres Vargas

POINT OF CONTACT: Jose Benavides, jose.v.benavides@nasa.gov

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