ISS: NanoRacks Services
ISS Utilization: NanoRacks Logistics Services for Small Satellites and ISS Deployment Systems
NanoRacks LLC of Houston, TX, a private logistics company, offers multiple commercial opportunities to use the U.S. National Lab on the ISS (International Space Station) for educational, institutional, or industry research. The NanoRacks smallsat research program provides a commercial gateway to the extreme environment of space for Earth and deep space observation. Any LEO payload is in play (i.e. atmospheric data collection, validation of COTS products/sensors, etc).
Private companies, educational institutions, and other organizations who plan to send experiments aboard the ISS, face a challenge: Each experiment sent aboard the ISS requires extensive safety and security checks — and about 1,000 pages of documentation (NASA requirements). In the past few years, a handful of companies worldwide have started handling all those details for space entrepreneurs. 1)
NanoRacks, one of the first companies to enter the field, operates the first commercial laboratory in space aboard the ISS and a panel laboratory that's attached to the space station. For the price of $30,000 for educational institutions or $60,000 for commercial entities, NanoRacks handles all the logistics related to sending experiments into space. The commercial company will handle the paperwork, find transportation among the many vehicles headed to the ISS, install the experiment, and take care of all governmental relations for would-be space experimenters. The standard NanoRacks experiment stays in space for 30 days.
NanoRacks originated from an idea developed in 2006 by David Anderman, who took the concept in 2008 to Jeffrey Manber and Michael Johnson, both of whom shared the vision of a low-cost, standardized commercial program for what was to become the U.S. National Lab on International Space Station. 2)
NanoRacks LLC , founded in 2008, proposed to NASA in 2009 to design and develop its own research hardware for the Station, with its own funding, in return for a small payload logistics service provision on a commercial basis. The NanoRacks management took all the risks, but felt that it could attract a customer base by creating a low cost, open source, standardized hardware market outside of the NASA environment, along with all the customer services. — On September 9, 2009, NASA agreed to NanoRacks' proposal with a Space Act Agreement. 3)
The NanoRacks system is a multipurpose ISS-based research facility designed to host a variety of experiments and activities. The NanoRacks core facility consists of an ER (Express Rack) locker insert . The ER locker insert will be transported to the ISS and placed in the ISS ER Locker. Each NanoRacks ER locker insert holds one NanoRacks tray with a total of 16 NanoLab unit positions with associated NanoLab interfaces. The insert includes a small stowage compartment for interfacing cables, power converter, and NanoRacks tools. A power connector on the NanoRacks insert interfaces with the ER power cable which in turn connects to an ER power connector which provides power to the Nanoracks trays.
The NanoLab experiments will vary in experimental function. It is anticipated they will include, but not be limited to non-powered passive experiments (e.g. radiation dosimeters), crew tended non-powered experiments (e.g. crew testing of an experimental handgrip), powered experiments (e.g. recording accelerometer package), as well, as biological when appropriate.
NanoLab units may be carried to and from the ISS (or disposed of) using a NanoRacks carrier. NanoRacks carriers are foam boxes that can carry any amount of NanoLabs in any available stowage container.
• In November 2013, NanoRacks and Spaceflight Inc. of Seattle, WA signed an agreement to provide commercial launch services from the ISS. Under this agreement Spaceflight and NanoRacks are collaborating to provide customers routine commercial launch services from the ISS. Each customer spacecraft will be deployed from the ISS via the Japanese Experiment Module airlock utilizing NanoRacks’ CubeSat Deployers. 4) 5)
Spaceflight Inc. – the Space Logistics Company- was founded in 2010. It provides frequent, cost effective, and routine access to space for deployed and hosted payloads. Spaceflight specializes in the launch of CubeSats, nanosatellites and microsatellites with masses between 1 kg and 300 kg. Through its global network of launch vehicle providers, Spaceflight can deploy payloads to low Earth orbit, the Moon, and beyond.
• July 16, 2014: UrtheCast Corp. announced that pursuant to its agreement with NanoRacks, LLC, it plans to dramatically expand its Earth Observation data stream by operating state-of-the-art sensors on the NASA segment of the ISS (International Space Station). UrtheCast intends to develop and supply the EO sensors, electronics and all related hardware. NanoRacks, working with the U.S. National Lab manager CASIS, will facilitate the launch, installation and onboard integration of the cameras and hardware in accordance with its Space Act Agreement with NASA. 6) 7)
• July 22, 2014: The USAF (United States Air Force) awarded a five year IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity) contract opportunity to SSL (Space Systems/Loral) under the HoPS (Hosted Payload Solutions) Program in order to facilitate the placement of payloads designed for GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) and LEO (Low-Earth Orbit). 8) 9) 10)
- In this arrangement, NanoRacks is one of the SSL LEO team services providers, utilizing its EPP (External Payload Platform) as a test-bed for sensors and advanced electronics, located outside the ISS (International Space Station).
- As of July 2014, NanoRacks has deployed over 200 payloads on Space Station. The Company’s current signed customer pipeline of over 150 payloads, including those from DLR (German Aerospace Center), NASA, US Government Agencies, Planet Labs, Space Florida, NCESSE ( National Center for Earth and Space Science Education), pharmaceutical drug companies, and organizations in Vietnam, UK, Romania and Israel, has propelled NanoRacks into a leadership position in understanding the emerging commercial market for low-earth orbit utilization.
• October 1, 2014: UrtheCast Corp. announced that it has acquired access to the TDRSS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) for the purpose of increasing its data downlink capacity and speed. As a robust constellation of communication satellites and ground stations for space communication, it is designed to increase the time spacecraft are in communication with the ground and improve the amount of data that can be transferred. TDRSS will allow UrtheCast to significantly augment both data collection and delivery to its current and future data clients. 11)
- The access to TDRSS was acquired through the UrtheCast partner NanoRacks LLC, a commercial provider of hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the ISS, pursuant to the Space Act Agreement of NanoRacks with NASA. After implementation, UrtheCast anticipates that it will begin delivery of some of its data via TDRSS in late 2014 or early 2015.
• In July 2015, NanoRacks signed a teaming agreement with Blue Origin to offer integration services on their New Shepard space vehicle. The Company has grown into the Operating System for Space Utilization by having the tools, the hardware and the services to allow other companies, organizations and governments to realize their own space plans. 12)
• As of March 2016, over 350 payloads have been deployed by NanoRacks on the International Space Station and our customer base includes the European Space Agency (ESA), the German Space Agency (DLR), the American space agency (NASA), US Government Agencies, Planet Labs, Urthecast, Space Florida, NCESSE, Virgin Galactic, pharmaceutical drug companies, and organizations in Vietnam, UK, Romania and Israel. The NanoRacks customer base has propelled the company into a leadership position in understanding the emerging commercial market for low-earth orbit utilization.
• April 13, 2016: Researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have become the first-ever team to experiment on both NanoRacks’ commercial research lab onboard the International Space Station (ISS) and in suborbital space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle.
• April 18, 2018: NanoRacks is pleased to announce that the Company will be pursuing International Space Station opportunities in cooperation with ALTEC and Thales Alenia Space, joint venture between Thales 67% and Leonardo 33%. To pursue these opportunities, NanoRacks will be staffing its first formal European-based office at ALTEC’s facilities in Torino, Italy. 13)
- The office will serve as a business development hub for European and Asian customers. International customers will enjoy NanoRacks end-to-end turnkey services and technical advice, now in a more accommodating time zone.
- The Companies will build together a directory of end-to-end solutions to lower the barriers for European and Asian customers to access low-Earth orbit. This directory will include a combination of hardware, software, and on-the-ground services. Bishop, the NanoRacks commercial airlock module will also be considered a part of ALTEC and Thales Alenia Space’s space product portfolio.
- The office will also house NanoRacks technical personnel as required for successful completion of Bishop.
- “There is an important market in Europe and Asia,” says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “We’re setting up with our friends at ALTEC and Thales Alenia Space to grow the relationship of our Companies and to remain the leader in commercial space station utilization globally. NanoRacks looks forward to leveraging the expertise of ALTEC and Thales Alenia Space to continue the exponential growth of the commercial ecosystem in low-Earth orbit.”
• As of April 2018, over 600 payloads have been launched to the International Space Station via NanoRacks services, and our customer base includes the European Space Agency (ESA) the German Space Agency (DLR,) the American space agency (NASA,) US Government Agencies, Spire, Millennium Space Systems, Space Florida, NCESSE (National Center for Earth and Space Science Education), Virgin Galactic, pharmaceutical drug companies, and organizations in Vietnam, UK, Romania, Israel and beyond (Ref. 23).
Status and development events of the Nanoracks activities and deployments (more or less in reverse order)
George Washington Carver Science Park on the ISS — announcement of Jeff Manber, CEO & Founder of Nanoracks
• October 14, 2021: Eleven years ago, Congress designated a portion of the International Space Station (ISS) as the latest and most amazing of America’s National Labs. Concurrently, America embarked on a pathway that allowed for commercial services in the growing low-earth marketplace. 14)
In these eleven years, so much has changed. Private industry responded to the ISS National Lab with research proposals ranging from cancer research to plant growth and everything in between. Transportation to and from the ISS is as reliable as Congress dreamed. Industry has made sizeable capital investments. And NASA responded by supporting utilization both as a partner and a customer. Nanoracks broke barriers, being the first to own and operate an extensive range of research hardware for commercial hardware. Today we are the global leader in commercial ISS utilization, with over 1,300 research experiments launched and nearly 300 small satellites deployed – and many more to come.
Now, given the increasing maturity of the LEO ecosystem, it is time for Nanoracks to take the next step in driving LEO utilization operations. After intensive investigation and discussion with industry experts, I am delighted to announce that the Nanoracks collection of hardware on the ISS will henceforth be operated as a Science Park. A Science Park is a well-known business model that brings together companies and organizations in a shared endeavor, and I am thrilled to share our Science Park will be named for the great American agriculture scientist, Dr. George Washington Carver.
The choice to name the Nanoracks’ Science Park for Dr. Carver, is a personal one. My father, a writer, landed an assignment when I was a young teenager to write a book about George Washington Carver. I remember his stories of this remarkable man, born into slavery, who is credited with saving the rural economy and revitalizing farm land of the post-Civil War American South by introducing the peanut and soybean into the farm ecosystem. His research led to the development of over 300 food, industrials and commercial products, from cooking oils to cosmetics and antiseptics. As Nanoracks dove into space-based AgTech, including developing StarLab Oasis, a wholly dedicated company to astrobiology research, I reread my father’s book, Wizard of Tuskegee, the Life of George Washington Carver. It was immediately clear that our Science Park should honor Dr. Carver. Read more on the Science Park and Carver in the Q&A.
Through the the George Washington Carver (GWC) Science Park, Nanoracks will achieve greater commercial sustainability and a clearer organizational focus for space station utilization. The George Washington Carver (GSC) Science Park has been accepted as the first in-space member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) and will utilize the expertise of the IASP and other Science Park experts skilled in bringing research and products from inception to the marketplace.
In the coming months we will be announcing a host of new hardware, management, and operational partners to the GWC Science Park. Our relationship with NASA remains unchanged as guided by Nanoracks’ multiple Space Act Agreements, as does our relationship with CASIS, the NGO (Non-Government Organization) that operates the U.S. National Lab.
To our customers: We can’t wait to show you all the new opportunities and streamlined access that the GWC Science Park will soon provide. Our promise to you is that this first-ever Science Park in space will be as robust as the scientists, innovators, and dreamers on Earth’s Science Parks could possibly expect of the best terrestrial facilities.
• August 25, 2021: Nanoracks, the world’s leading provider of commercial access to space, is pleased to announce the launch of a new Space AgTech (Agricultural Technology) company, StarLab Oasis. This expansion highlights Nanoracks commitment to address the growing problems of desertification, climate change, water scarcity and food security. The research on the impact of harsh space environments and arid Earth conditions on agriculture, led us to the deserts of Abu Dhabi. 15)
- Nanoracks partnered with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) in an effort to accelerate the growth of Abu Dhabi’s AgTech ecosystem that will impact not only this region but the world. ADIO is committing to a multi-year economic development effort to allow a world-class, historic commercial space and farming research center in Abu Dhabi.
- StarLab Oasis will focus on advancing the knowledge and technology of organisms and food that are produced in the harsh environment of space. The company will consist of an international team of researchers who will bring expertise in bioengineering, plant sciences, genomic seed technology, closed loop environment systems, robotics, and automated software systems. These researchers will work closely with the existing Nanoracks team and in-space products, and with our partners in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), allowing the company to rapidly advance to market leadership in the critical areas of agriculture, climate science, and sustainability.
- Allen Herbert, will lead StarLab Oasis as the General Manager. His passion and commitment to Space Agtech research, technology and innovation, will emphasize Nanoracks efforts on these key issues. Allen states that, “what’s most exciting about the emirate is its global perspective, innovation, and ambition. Abu Dhabi’s environment for creativity and entrepreneurship sets it apart as the place to drive the future of agriculture for this region and the world.” He continued by saying that, “the results of the ground-breaking work at StarLab Oasis will have tangible, down-to-earth benefits which will help us pursue new ways of using technology to produce food while simultaneously coping with climate challenges.” He believes, “a great amount of the world’s sustainable and economically efficient food production will one day come from deserts, harsh environments and off earth. All this is beginning now, in Abu Dhabi.”
- According to Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Nanoracks, “StarLab Oasis will provide the technology and access necessary to overcome the direst challenges facing our Earth today, from climate change to water scarcity, and to one day in turn, help sustain tomorrow’s farmers, innovators, and space explorers.” He continues, “we believe passionately that our growing utilization of the space environment can reap results that will change the lives for billions of people suffering from an increasingly fragile food security chain, and being uprooted because of fundamental and historic changes in the climate.”
• July 29, 2021: The experimental payload known as ReADI FP (REducing Arthritis Dependent Inflammation First Phase) is currently on its way from Italy to Nanoracks’ integration facilities in Houston, TX. 16)
- The experiment investigates how a blend of natural bioactive metabolites such as antioxidants, polyphenols and resveratrol extracted from wine pomace can have a protective effect on bone tissue during space flight. The ultimate goal of the experiment is to find operational solutions aimed at mitigating the negative effects of the microgravity environment on astronauts, who during prolonged space flight undergo a deterioration of bone tissue similar to what happens to patients affected by osteoporosis. Indeed, the two conditions are so similar that research in one field could lead to a groundbreaking discovery in the other.
- This initiative is the result of a cooperation between Nanoracks Europe and ALI Scarl, Marscenterand Naples’ Federico II University, with contributions from Mastroberardino Winery and BCTrade.
- “It is amazing to see how even in a small space laboratory, ReADI FP, there is so much of Earth, from scientific ideas to business challenges. All of this constitutes a prime example of how space is getting increasingly closer to Earth” said Veronica La Regina, CEO of Nanoracks Space Outpost Europe (NRSOE).
- About the experiment, Marcello Spagnulo, President of the Mars Center, said “the anti-inflammatory effect of resveratrol is well-assessed although not deeply investigated. The utilization of what was historically considered a by-product, in this case winemaking, to conduct ground-breaking research in microgravity is a way of involving non-space sectors in the Space Economy. Therefore, this project shows that it is possible to envision new forms of collaborations, initiating a diversification within the space sector to encompass purely commercial activities”.
- The FP (first phase) in the title of this project indicates how it wants to be the starting point for the development of solutions addressing once and for all the issues arising from life in microgravity.
- This initiative exemplifies Nanoracks’ commitment to working with the existing realities present in the territories the companies operate in to make space truly accessible to everyone.
• July 7, 2021: Nanoracks is excited to announce that it has been selected by NASA to manage the HUNCH program as part of a multi-year award. 17)
- HUNCH (High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware) is a program where High School students learn how to design and fabricate products for space. To date, the program has 277 participating schools, over 2,500 students, and has flown 1,340 items to the ISS. The program has a number of focus areas, including hardware manufacturing (design and prototyping as well as actual manufacturing), software development, soft goods sewing, video and media development, and culinary/cooking programs. Fundamentally it works like an apprenticeship; the programs in the schools teach students these skills and then immediately implement them to produce flight hardware for space.
- HUNCH makes EXPRESS Rack lockers, IVA handrails, tape dispensers, CTB bags, and many other products with NASA as the customer. The HUNCH team host Video and Media challenges and culinary challenges that result in additions to the menus for on-orbit astronauts. The program uniquely exposes students from around the nation to valuable STEM/STEAM skills that prepares them to further their technical capabilities and launch their careers.
- Nanoracks is thrilled to welcome the HUNCH team members. Mentors and experts from HUNCH’s many programs will be members of the Nanoracks team, giving Nanoracks in-house capabilities from varied disciplines that have been executing this program for years. Nanoracks inherited a program that is unilaterally considered a success. Moving forward, the Nanoracks team will work closely with HUNCH leadership, including the founders of this program, to further grow the program.
- Nanoracks would like to give a huge Thank You to Scott Rodriguez, Michael Lewis and the many other Nanoracks team members who assisted with this transition. We would also like to thank the HUNCH team and all of those who assisted as well.
- For all of us at Nanoracks the HUNCH program is a great pathway to involve even more students into the vibrant growth of the commercial space industry. We will be reaching out to many of our commercial and government partners and customers to discuss how you too can become part of the HUNCH program.
• June 30, 2021: At 22:50 UTC yesterday, two Nanoracks customer CubeSats were deployed from the Nanoracks External CubeSat Deployer (E-NRCSD) on the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft. After a four-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the NG-15 Cygnus, named the S.S. Katherine Johnson, unberthed from the ISS and boosted into a higher orbit to deploy the CubeSats. 18)
- The two CubeSats, IT-SPINS and MySat-2, were released into a circular orbit about 490 km (304 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
- The Ionospheric-Thermospheric Scanning Photometer for Ion-Neutral Studies (IT-SPINS) CubeSat was built by Montana State University and selected for launch by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites-33 (ELaNa-33) mission complement, sponsored by the NASA Launch Services Program (LSP). The mission provides the first two-dimensional (2D) tomographic imaging from a 3U CubeSat to better understand the basic nature of the nocturnal ionosphere. This research strengthens fundamental understanding for development of ion gradient structures in the topside of the Earth’s ionosphere.
- MySat-2 (also known as DhabiSat) was built by Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, UAE and is the second Khalifa University CubeSat to be launched by Nanoracks. The first, MySat-1, was deployed from the NG-10 Cygnus spacecraft in February 2019. These small satellites enable students to design, implement and test software modules for attitude determination and control systems.
- Nanoracks would like to thank Northrop Grumman and the NASA International Space Station Program for their continued support of Nanoracks’ operations on the ISS, the Cygnus spacecraft, and throughout low-Earth orbit.
• June 14, 2021: Nanoracks successfully completed the 20th CubeSat deployment mission from the Company’s commercially developed platform on the International Space Station (ISS). Having released two CubeSats into low-Earth orbit, this mission marks Nanoracks’ 262nd CubeSat released from the ISS, and the 285th small satellite deployed by Nanoracks overall. 19)
- The CubeSats deployed were launched to the ISS as pressurized cargo on the SpaceX CRS-22 mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida earlier this month. The Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) offered an affordable launch opportunity, flexible payload manifesting, comprehensive meetings with NASA, and on-orbit operations management that met all our customers’ needs.
- “As we celebrate our 20th CubeSat deployment mission from the ISS, I am both grateful and proud of the commercial space platform our team at Nanoracks has built,” says Satellite Program Manager, Tristan Prejean. “We also share this important milestone with two customers who embody Nanoracks’ goals of educating future space enthusiasts and improving research methods in microgravity. Our company works hard every day to define a path to the stars for everyone around the globe, and this mission has once again shown that those dreams can become reality.”
- The two satellites deployed from this mission, RamSat and SOAR, each have strong educational and research-based goals.
- RamSat, a 2U CubeSat, was built by students from Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The satellite will use multispectral and near-infrared cameras to examine the impacts of large-scale disturbances (e.g., forest fires) on forests. RamSat was selected for launch by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites-36 (ELaNa-36) mission complement, sponsored by the NASA Launch Services Program (LSP).
- Additionally, the Satellite for Orbital Aerodynamics Research (SOAR) is a 3U CubeSat that will study the residual atmosphere and associated gas-surface interactions in very low earth orbits (VLEO). Led by the University of Manchester as a part of the DISCOVERER Project, the primary aim of the SOAR mission is to test and characterize new materials that can reduce the experienced drag and increase aerodynamic performance in low altitude orbits. The satellite will also perform characterization of the atmospheric flow and demonstrate novel aerodynamic attitude control maneuvers.
• June 5, 2021: Earlier today, the SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon Spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (ISS), carrying five diverse Nanoracks payloads, including two CubeSats and three microgravity experiments. The Dragon arrived at the ISS after launching from Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2021 at 17:29 UTC. 20)
- This launch is Nanoracks’ seventeenth mission providing research opportunities via Mixstix, Nanolabs, and CubeSats on a SpaceX launch. The CubeSats onboard this mission includes RamSat, which was built by students from Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and SOAR, a technology demonstration designed by the University of Manchester and University College London.
- The RamSat CubeSat will use multispectral and near-infrared cameras to examine the impacts of large-scale disturbances (e.g., forest fires) on forests. RamSat was selected for launch by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites-36 (ELaNa-36) mission complement, sponsored by the NASA Launch Services Program (LSP).
- The SOAR CubeSat contains two payloads: an aerodynamics characterization payload developed at The University of Manchester, and an Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) developed at the University College London (UCL) Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
- Students from UAE University working in collaboration with DreamUp, Nanoracks’ educational sister company, are sending SmoothISS, a payload containing a camel milk-based smoothie to space. This project is part of the Tests in Orbit competition, made possible by DreamUp, Higher Colleges of Technology, Nanoracks, and the UAE Space Agency (UAESA). This competition provides university student teams the opportunity to develop microgravity experiments. These students state that, “providing an appropriate selection of culturally-adapted, enjoyable, tasty, safe, and nutritious food is a priority to maintain astronaut health and ensure successful missions.”
- DreamUp students from iLEAD Schools also developed two Mixstix experiments: “What is the effect of microgravity on Dracus carota (carrot seeds),” designed by a team of 5th through 9th graders, and “What is the effect of microgravity on Vigna radiata (Mung Beans),” developed by a team of 5th through 7th graders. These two experiments both aim to investigate possible nutritious food sources that can support astronauts on long-duration missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
• December 6, 2020: The privately-owned Nanoracks Bishop Airlock, nested inside the SpaceX Dragon trunk, was launched and has reached a stable orbit after a successful launch onboard the CRS-21 mission. Today’s mission was launched from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 11:17 AM EST. 21)
- “This is a monumental moment for Nanoracks,” says CEO Jeffrey Manber. “We came up with this idea five years ago. In those five quick years, we’ve gone from being known as the ‘CubeSat’ deployment company to an organization that is building the future of commercial low-Earth orbit infrastructure. I am beyond proud of our team and grateful to all of our partners and customers who have brought us to this very moment.”
- The self-funded Bishop Airlock offers five times the current payload volume that is currently available on the government-operated JEM Airlock on the space station and is the first-ever commercial airlock. Bishop’s capabilities include the deployment of free-flying payloads such as CubeSats and externally-mounted payloads, housing of small payloads for research and in-space manufacture, jettisoning trash, and recovering external Orbital Replacement Units (ORUs). ORUs are modular components of the station that can be replaced when needed, such as pumps and other hardware.
- The concept for the Bishop Airlock was developed after Nanoracks found themselves in a bottleneck on the space station with too much customer demand for the limited airlock space and opening frequency.
- ‘It’s a very Nanoracks way of thinking, to say that something on the International Space Station isn’t working for us, so we’ll just go ahead and build our own,” says Nanoracks Airlock Program Manager Brock Howe. “We couldn’t have gotten to this critical point without our partners, which includes Boeing, Thales Alenia Space, ATA Engineering, Oceaneering, and Craig Technologies.”
- Bishop is currently certified for 100 cycles, with one ‘cycle’ including both an opening and a closing. Nanoracks expects that lifetime can be extended through some additional analysis and if market demand warrants the increase. The first Bishop customers include NASA and ESA, and Japanese space robotics startup, GITAI.
- “Our Bishop team has been dedicated to this program for years, working most recently around the clock in the midst of a global pandemic, all to make sure our beauty would be delivered in perfect condition and ready to be commissioned upon arrival to the space station,” continues Howe. “I am so proud.”
- Once installed permanently on the American side of the space station, Bishop will be a privately funded service allowing NASA to follow the agency goal of serving as one of many customers for commercial services in space, expanding the low-Earth orbit market beyond just government-provided products and services. For Nanoracks, the Bishop Airlock is the first step in building in-space infrastructure, to be followed with demonstrations and missions for the Nanoracks Space Outpost Program.
• December 6, 2020: The NRAL (Nanoracks Airlock) module is a commercially-funded airlock module launched to the International Space Station on SpaceX CRS-21 on 6 December 2020. It was berthed to the Tranquility module on 19 December 2020 by the Canadarm2. The module was built by Nanoracks, Thales Alenia Space, and Boeing. It is used to deploy CubeSats, small satellites, and other external payloads for NASA, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and other commercial and governmental customers. NASA plans on using the airlock as a brand new way to dispose large pieces of trash. The name of the module refers to the bishop chess piece, which moves diagonally. 22)
• April 17, 2018: The NanoRacks Space Station Airlock Module “Bishop” met another major milestone with completion of the Critical Design Review (CDR) on March 20 and 21, 2018 in Houston, Texas. This milestone begins the transition from the engineering design phase to the fabrication phase. Detailed design drawings such as those for the critical pressure shell will be signed and released to NanoRacks fabrication partner, Thales Alenia Space, in order for them to continue their fabrication efforts. 23)
- In February 2018, NanoRacks announced that Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales and Leonardo, was chosen as the latest partner in its commercial airlock program, joining with a number of key partners, including Boeing.
- Thales Alenia Space is set to produce and test the critical pressure shell for the NanoRacks Airlock Module and will also manufacture various secondary structures, including the Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris (MMOD) shields with Multi-Layer Isolation (MLI) panels, the power and video grapple fixture support structure and other structural components.
- Other key features, such as the Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (PCBM), being manufactured by Boeing, require a long lead time and have been in production for over a year now. The PCBM will be delivered to Thales Alenia Space in May 2018 and will then be installed to the pressure shell.
- “I’m very proud of the NanoRacks engineering team and our partner, ATA Engineering, who performs the structural and thermal analysis for Bishop,” says Airlock Project Manager Brock Howe. “This is a crucial milestone that required many long hours, and the team has been working together very smoothly. We’re also very appreciative of our relationship with NASA and the International Space Station Program Office, as they have provided guidance and expertise in several critical areas. As always, there is plenty of work still to do – and we will continue to push forward.”
- The next major milestone is the Phase II Safety Review scheduled for June 2018. The project is still on track to meet the SpaceX CRS-19 launch, targeting fourth quarter 2019.
• January 29, 2020: Xplore Inc., a commercial space company providing ”Space As A Service™,” today announced a partnership in which Nanoracks will provide commercial deep space flight opportunities for its customers and serve as a customer interface for payload design, preparation and integration on Xplore missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus, Lagrange Points and near-Earth asteroids. 24)
- Nanoracks has dramatically expanded the commercialization of space in low-Earth orbit by launching cubesats and microsatellites from the International Space Station, and launching hundreds of microgravity experiments, for customers since 2009.
- Xplore founder Lisa Rich said, "Xplore and Nanoracks have joined forces to create higher-cadence, low-cost flight opportunities to the inner solar system via the Xplore Xcraft."
- She continued, "Xplore's multi-mission spacecraft has a large payload bay, ample power, electric propulsion and precision pointing capability to perform advanced planetary science, heliophysics, astrophysics, planetary defense and national security missions for our customers. Scientists need more flight opportunities to the Moon, Mars, Venus and other interplanetary destinations. Together, Xplore and Nanoracks will deliver this access and enable scientists to focus on the science, not the spacecraft."
- Nanoracks CEO Jeffrey Manber said, "Commercial space no longer stops at low-Earth orbit. Xplore paves the way for commercial utilization and services to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. We are truly excited at Nanoracks to be working with Xplore to bring our commercial knowledge from low-Earth orbit into deep space exploration."
- Xplore will advance commercialization of deep space by promoting science, accelerating innovation and growing programmatic-level efforts with established and emerging space agencies around the world.
- Beginning with Moon Xpeditions targeted for late 2021, customers can fly instruments including optical instruments, space weather instruments, hyperspectral imagers, deployable cubesats, life science experiments, technology demonstrations and more from the Moon to Ceres.
- Lisa Rich said, "Nanoracks' ability to prepare and integrate our customers' instruments onto Xplore's spacecraft platform allows Xplore to launch payloads faster and accelerate access to space."
First Commercial Airlock Module planned on International Space Station
• In May 2016, NanoRacks and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement in order to install a private airlock module onboard the International Space Station – the first in station history. The NanoRacks Airlock Module will be both a permanent commercial uncrewed module onboard International Space Station, and also a module capable of being removed from the space station and used on a future commercial platform.
NanoRacks has selected Boeing to fabricate and install the Airlock’s PCBM (Passive Common Berthing Mechanism), which is used to connect most pressurized modules of the ISS – and is the most critical piece of hardware for the airlock. The PCBM hardware is being manufactured at the Boeing facilities in Huntsville, Alabama. Boeing will also provide additional engineering services required for developing and manufacturing of the airlock. 25) 26) 27) 28)
“This partnership is an important step in the commercial transition we’ll see on the ISS in coming years," said Mark Mulqueen Boeing ISS program manager. “Utilizing a commercial airlock to keep up with the demand of deployment will significantly streamline our process.”
Commercial opportunities through Airlock begin with cubesat and small satellite deployment from station and include a full range of additional services to meet customer needs from NASA and the growing commercial sector. Currently, cubesats and small satellites are deployed through the government-operated Japanese Kibo Airlock. Additionally, the crew on board may now assemble payloads typically flown in soft-stowage ISS Cargo Transfer Bags into larger items that currently cannot be handled by the existing Kibo Airlock.
“We are very pleased to have Boeing joining with us to develop the Airlock Module,” says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “This is a huge step for NASA and the U.S. space program, to leverage the commercial marketplace for low-Earth orbit, on Space Station and beyond, and NanoRacks is proud to be taking the lead in this prestigious venture.”
Beyond station, the Airlock could at some future time, be detached and placed onto another on-orbit platform.
The in-house team at NanoRacks, led by Mr. Brock Howe, will oversee the project management, mechanical and avionics design engineering, safety, operations, quality assurance, mockups and crew training, and the final assembly, integration and testing of the Airlock. Additionally, NanoRacks will be manifesting the Airlock for launch, with an estimated launch in 2019.
“The NanoRacks Airlock Module is the next logical step in the successful line of NanoRacks’ commercial payload facilities,” says Brock Howe, NanoRacks’ Head of Airlock. “This Airlock Module will provide a broad range of capabilities to our payload customers and expand greatly on the commercial utilization of the Station – and I look forward to leading the team at NanoRacks on this next venture.”
NanoRacks is also pleased to work with ATA Engineering Inc. on this project. ATA Engineering, of San Diego, CA, will lead the structural and thermal analysis, testing services and support of the airlock.
Payloads, including commercial payloads, deployed via the airlock will be coordinated through CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space), NASA’s manager of the U.S. National Laboratory on the space station. All non-NASA funded payloads for the U.S. National Lab are subject to the vetting process CASIS has established (Ref. 27).
NASA anticipates the airlock will launch on a commercial resupply mission for integration in 2019, and will be located on a port in the space station’s Tranquility module.
Attached to a separate port on Tranquility is another commercial investment — BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). This module is the first human-rated expandable habitat to be tested in space and has potential application for future habitation in low-Earth orbit and deep space.
The NanoRacks Airlock and BEAM are two examples of NASA’s larger efforts to maximize use of the space station and advance commercial activity in space. NASA also issued a request for information last fall seeking additional interest on the part of private enterprises to use available unique space station resources, such as docking ports. As private sector partners play a greater role in this new economy, NASA is able to focus on its deep space exploration goals, including sending humans beyond the moon and eventually, to Mars.
Kaber (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer System) - a microsatellite deployer on the ISS
The NanoRacks Kaber Microsat Deployer (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer) is a reusable system that provides command and control for microsatellite deployments from the ISS (International Space Station). NanoRacks developed the Kaber leveraging its experience deploying CubeSats from the ISS. The Kaber enables NanoRacks to support deployment into space of microsatellites in the mass range of 50 - 100 kg from the ISS. Kaber promotes ISS utilization by enabling deployment into orbit for a class of payload developers normally relying on expendable launch vehicles for space access. Microsatellites that are compatible with the NanoRacks Kaber have additional power, volume and communications resources enabling missions in low Earth orbit of more scope and sophistication. 29) 30) 31)
Launch: The Kaber deployer of NanoRacks was delivered to the ISS on the Cygnus Orbital ATK CRS-4 (Commercial Resupply Service) cargo mission (launch on December 6, 2015 (21:44:57 UTC) from KSC (Kennedy Space Center), Cape Canaveral, FL).
• The NanoRacks Kaber Microsat Deployer (NanoRacks Microsat Deployer) is a reusable system that provides command and control for satellite deployments via the JEM Airlock from the ISS.
• The NanoRacks Microsat Deployer has a mass of about 10 kg with approximate dimensions of 40 cm x 42 cm x 31 cm.
• Kaber maintains a mechanical and electrical interface between the satellite separation system and the International Space Station / Mobile Servicing System / Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (ISS / MSS / SPDM) and to the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) airlock slide table.
• The NanoRacks Microsat Deployer accommodates microsatellites up to a mass of 100 kg with approximate dimensions 95 cm x 83 cm x 64 cm (max).
Legend to Figure 6: This photo shows the black colored circular Kaber flange and box shaped Kaber housing. The brass colored robotic SPDM electrical interface is visible on the top of the Kaber housing. The gold colored microsquire fixture on atop the CLPA mate/demate wedge is the grapple point for the SPDM. Also shown in this photo is the white colored CLPA mate/demate wedge protective cover. Image courtesy of NanoRacks.
• The NanoRacks Kaber microsatellite deployer system is an on-orbit small satellite deployment system that will be used to deploy satellites from the ISS. Its deploy capabilities are similar to Cyclops, but it is designed to deploy payloads with the SPDM (Special Purpose Dexeterous Manipulator) utilizing the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) airlock and slide table.
• Payloads that are to be deployed by Kaber will be integrated with the deployer on-board the ISS by ISS crew members. The deployer/payload is then transferred out of the ISS via the JEM airlock. Once outside, Kaber will be retrieved by the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator) and moved to the appropriate deploy location. Once in the deploy location and orientation the payload is deployed.
• The commercial deployer system aims to address the growing market of customers wanting to deploy microsatellites from the ISS orbit. SIMPL (Satlet Initial-Mission Proofs and Lessons) of NanoRacks was the first microsatellite deployed through the Kaber facility (Ref. 31).
NREP (NanoRacks External Platform) - A commercial hosted Payload Service
The NanoRacks EPP (External Platform Program) provides a commercial gateway to the extreme environment of space. It is an ideal location for Earth and deep space observation, sensor development and testing for advanced electronics and materials. 32) 33) 34)
The NREP delivers research results concerning biological testing, sensor target testing, satellite communications components testing, power systems testing, and materials testing. Delivered results will include, but are not limited to, data and payload return. The facility is equipped with its own power supply to distribute power to experimental containers. An internal computer system monitors and controls the flow of power to the containers, receives commands from on-ground users, and communicates research data to those users. NREP provides a unique opportunity for automated experiments that require vacuum exposure.
Airbus Defence and Space (former Astrium North America Inc.) of Houston, TX, is the designer and manufacturer of the Platform. The NREP (NanoRacks External Platform) will host payloads in the open space environment while attached to the JEM-EF (JEM External Facility). 35) There are a number of applications that the External Payload Platform provides, including: sensor target testing, biological testing, access to station power and data, flight qualification, materials testing, and more. The NREP will allow for high data rates, payload return, risk mitigation, and predictable and frequent service. 36)
EPP (External Platform Program) system: The size of the external payload platform and payload items is limited by constraints on handling the assembly on-board the ISS and on transferring it through the JEM airlock. The EPP dimensions almost fully use the allowable item envelope specified for the JEM airlock. The EPP flight unit external configuration is shown in Figure 8. A significant portion of the airlock allowed envelope is used by the grapple fixture interface required during the RMS operation and by the PIU (Payload Interface Unit) standard interface to the JEM-EF which is not shown in the figure. Therefore, the standard experiment payload size is 10 x 10 x 40 cm or 4U in the CubeSat standard. Also 1U, 2U, 3U, and multiples of the 4U shape are feasible. 37) 38) 39)
The NREP allows for various configurations with different standard sizes of payloads. An example is shown in Figure 9. Standard payloads have a width and a height of 10 cm and a length from 1U (10 cm) up to 4 U (40 cm). NREP is able to accommodate up to 9 4U CubeSat-size payloads outside of station with a standard mission duration of 15 weeks. The Platform continues to allow for NanoRacks’ end-to-end mission services that are offered across all of The Company’s space station opportunities. Also 1U, 2U, 3U, and multiples of the 4U shape are feasible. The payloads will interface to a standard sized interface plate suitable for up to nine standard 4U CubeSat sized payload containers (Figure 9).
Alternatively, EPP can be operated in the unique payload configuration for one single payload using the entire available volume as specified in Figure 10. In this case the single payload needs to be designed for the base plate mechanical interface on EPP. There is no mass restriction for standard payloads, but high density payload design can result in payloads with a mass up to 4 kg. The unique payload is limited to a mass of 35 kg.
Power Supply and Data Handling: The power supplied to each payload is limited by the heat rejection capability of the payload and restricted by the heat radiation allowed to be radiated to the inside of the EPP. The primary thermal interface between the payload and the EPP is through the base of the payload volume. There, a special silicone thermal gel pad covers the interface area between the payload container and the EPP base plate. This pad is attached to the payload on ground and covered by a removable paper to protect the gel pad prior to the payload on-orbit installation.
Payload data is transferred to the ISS infrastructure using a USB 2.0 standard power and data interface. The data stream is transmitted through WiFi/Ethernet based communication protocols to the NanoRacks subracks in the EXPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station) Rack 4 in the JEM-PM (Pressurized Module) via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). For this purpose a WiFi communication system is embedded on the EPP. This system utilizes an Ubiquiti/SR71 wireless radio which communicates with the EPP DHS ( Data Handling System) and generates the wireless signal to the ISS Wireless Access Point. The MIL-STD-1553B interface available on the JEM-EF is only used for the commanding and monitoring of the EPP.
Each active payload and the overall EPP status can be monitored online by the H&S (Health & Status) stream which is sent every second. Some bits of the H&S stream can be customized to the payload operator's requirements. The EPP payloads can be commanded after the commands have been processed by the NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center). The commands are uploaded using the MIL-STD-1553B standard. Payload data can be downlinked with the MRDL (Medium Rate Data Link) with currently 3 Mbit/s. This data rate is expected to be improved in the near future. The overall payload communication setup is summarized in Figure 11, standard payload resources in Table 2.
28 VDC ± 2 V, 120 VDC as option
30 W at 28 VDC
USB 2.0 bus
5 VDC / 500 mA, non-switchable
Payload data rate
Platform Environment: The mechanical environment during launch and return is very much mitigated, especially regarding the shock loads to be expected, due to the transportation of payload canisters inside standardized CTBs (Cargo Transfer Bags). A very important aspect unique to the ISS operations is the vibrational environment originating from the ISS crew and ISS mechanical system operations. The station experiences a constant high frequency jitter vibration which superposes the rather low frequency drift. The jitter acts as disturbance of the microgravity conditions and needs to be taken in to account in the payload mission design.
Outside the ISS, the EPP is exposed to direct solar light, reflected solar light from Earth's atmosphere, infrared radiation from the Earth, and cosmic microwave background. Taking into account these thermal fluxes as well as reflections from the ISS structure and a solar beta angle variation of -75º to +75º a worst cold and worst hot case have been identified in the thermal analysis conducted as part of the EPP design activities. The worst cold case is a combination of all payloads being inactive with the thermal conditions of the worst case orbit, while the hot case is a combination of all payloads being active and radiating the maximum power of 30 W. Within these extreme cases, the payload wall temperatures vary between 222 and 339 K.
The ISS provides an exceptionally clean environment to external payloads. The external contamination control requirements limit contaminant deposition to 130 Å/year on external payloads and ISS sensitive surfaces. Measurements of contaminant deposition on ISS returned hardware have demonstrated that these requirements are indeed met at ISS payload sites. Contamination fluxes emanating from the ISS are assessed in several areas of the station, including the JEM-EF. The flux of molecules is limited by design such that at 300 K the mass deposition rate on the sampling surfaces is limited to 1 x 10-14 g cm-2s-1 on a daily average and will not exceed 1 x 10-6 g cm-2yr-1.
Viewing Conditions: The basic mission of the EPP Service is to use the ISS as payload-supporting platform comparable to a common satellite platform but benefiting from the extraordinary infrastructure of the station. The ISS is an ideal platform for various kinds of missions in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), but especially in the field of observation. The presence of the space station in LEO provides the opportunity for collecting Earth and space science data and to test space-related technologies in the relevant environment. From an average orbit altitude of about 400 km, details in observed features can be layered with data originating from orbiting satellites, to compile the most comprehensive information available. In its 51.6º inclination orbit, the ISS passes over roughly 85% of the Earth’s surface and 95% of the world’s populated landmass every 1 to 3 days.
A viewing assessment with the EPP installed at JEM-EF site No 4 shows very good visibility conditions10. Figure 12 shows the accommodation site of EPP on JEM- EF, while Figure 13 provides a fisheye representation of the view to the ISS port side with viewing obstructions, caused by ISS structures. The pathway of the solar arrays is indicated as light red circle. The starboard side view being symmetrical with respect to the available viewing cone, the analysis demonstrates that EPP is able to provide an optical access in a cone of 40 opening angle from forward to rear direction with respect to the nominal ISS attitude.
Micro-vibrational Environment: The microgravity environment on the JEM-EF is confirmed by JAXA to have very good condition and to reach approximately 10-6 g. However, this condition may be disturbed by atmospheric drag, exhaust gas from pressurized modules, crew activity, and ISS attitude maneuvers. There are 3 MME (Microgravity Measurement Equipment) sensor assemblies installed in the JEM-EF. The data measured shows accelerations from 200 µg to 0.01 g since the commissioning of the equipment in 2009. The results are shown and compared with the ISS microgravity environment specification in Figure 14. EPP is an ideal platform thanks to its excellent viewing conditions and low structural response to ISS jitter vibrations. Structural-dynamic simulations with the EPP performed with various kinds of payload configurations demonstrate the usability of the platform for remote sensing missions. The rotational response at the different EPP standard payload positions has been analyzed based on the acceleration environment measured on the JEM-EF ( Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility) by JAXA. Taking into account various EPP mission complements and payload eigen frequencies it is demonstrated by analysis that the rotational response around Nadir and other axes stay well below 0.01 arcsec (Figure 15). Due to the shape of the first structural eigen modes, EPP slot P4 is optimal with respect to rotations around the X-axis which is most relevant for line of sight vibrations in Nadir viewing.
Payload Mission Opportunities and Use Cases: Table 3 gives an overview of the use cases envisioned for the EPP including an assessment of the suitability of the system for various payload missions. Due to its nadir viewing capability EPP is an ideal platform for any Earth-related remote sensing. Applications requiring zenith viewing, however, can be made possible with slight system modifications.
Technology testing, demonstration, verification
Low Earth orbit environment, microgravity, vacuum, thermal loads
- Testing of small elements at low cost and with minimal mission lead time
- ISS orbit inclination to be considered
- Very good Nadir viewing
Viewing constraints by ISS system elements
- Limited zenith viewing capability
Communication link to ground
- ISS orbit inclination to be considered
- Very good Nadir viewing
ISS orbit inclination to be considered
Limited zenith viewing capability
Research in space
Space environment available
Exposure of specimens to space environment
Table 4 compares the common utilization scenario with the commercial approach. One major change is the significant acceleration of mission preparations which is enabled by two factors. The commercial scheme rules out lengthy negotiations with the International Partners, because no payload sponsorship is necessary any more. The second and equally important factor is the simplification of the payload qualification. Since payload functionality is entirely the customer's responsibility, the testing and qualification philosophy remains unaffected by any third party interference. The reviews commonly held are reduced to one review only which is the safety review. Accordingly, the EPP Service only requires minimal information on the payload itself.
Agency or private
Agency or private
ISS program sponsoring
No sponsoring necessary
Agency qualification and certification requirements
Payload customer’s own responsibility
Certification by ISS Program
Certification by ISS Program
Only payloads from ISS Program member states
Access for research groups worldwide
Long term planning required to use ISS infrastructure
Available for short term mission decisions
Multiple interfaces in ISS Program
One single customer interface
Mission lead time
approximately 27 months
The further utilization of the ISS outside its classic role as low gravity and human spaceflight research platform is among the primary objectives of this new commercial service. A comparison with the dedicated spacecraft solution commonly pursued by small payload missions shows that this conventional solution does not necessarily result in an optimal compliance with the requirements in terms of orbit selection and space segment design. Furthermore, the dedicated spacecraft solution often has significant overall mission cost affiliated and the mission time line is very often affected by launch delays which is increasingly unacceptable for commercial service missions building upon revenues generated by the payload in orbit. Therefore, EPP and the utilization of ISS can be a good opportunity for conducting space missions in LEO on a low cost and fast track basis.
Launch: NREP was part of the payload launched on the Japanese HTV-5 (H-II Transfer Vehicle) on August 19, 2015 from TNSC (Tanegashima Space Center) in Japan. NREP is expected to be operational starting early spring 2016. 40)
Also on board of HTV-5 were 16 CubeSats, which include 14 Planet Labs Doves Flock- 2B, the University of Aalborg's AAU-SatX-5 and Gomspace's GOMX-3.
Launch: The launch of NREP was originally manifested on the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 mission, which was launched on Oct. 28, 2014 and experienced a launch failure; however, a delay of the NREP system saved the day for NanoRacks. The NREP is now manifested on SpaceX CRS-7, set to launch in June 2015.
Note: NREP was slipped to Orb4, and has since been re-manifested to fly on SpaceX CRS-7 since the Cygnus Orb-4 launch date is still in flux. The current launch date for SpaceX CRS-7 is June 13, 2015. It is launching with 2 payloads that are sharing a 4U payload enclosure. These payloads were contracted through CASIS, and are showcasing an electronics experiment investigating the effects of radiation, and a solar cells experiment testing different types of cell chemistry in the space environment. There are several other payloads currently being developed for a launch in the fall of 2015. Experiments currently in development range from Earth observation to testing of a corrosion inhibitor in the space environment. 41)
According to NanoRacks , NREP ,or simply the EPP (External Payload Platform), will start operations in the spring of 2016 on slot 4 of the JEM-EF. The platform is operated under the NanoRacks' Space Act Agreement with NASA and embedded into payload end-to-end services provided by Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS) and NanoRacks to commercial and institutional customers worldwide (Ref.37).
The small size EPP is an approach of a new kind to foster the utilization of infrastructure available on the ISS. With the end of the ISS assembly phase the exploitation of on-orbit resources for the contributing nations' scientific and economic benefit is extensively performed. However, further capacities in the station's infrastructure do exist which can contribute to the utilization if used efficiently. Therefore, it remains the driving objective for the partners and their affiliated industrial contractors to foster further opportunities to access the ISS and to promote the extensive use of the station as in-orbit laboratory for the benefit of the space community world wide.
The EPP is part of a commercial service covering the project development, mission preparation and management, payload integration into the ISS operations, and payload operations. This service is realized in a cooperation between the companies NanoRacks and Airbus Defense and Space -Space Systems in the United States with development and engineering services as well as payload business development provided by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany. The EPP Service represents a new approach to provide low-cost research infrastructure in the space environment. It transforms the station into a commercially available laboratory in space with the capability to support missions in various fields.
Platform Concept of Operations:
The launch of payloads to the ISS is a resource that is very well available for small size payloads transported in a pressurized environment among other resupply items required by the station operations. With the aim of providing a reliable and easy to prepare way of transportation to ISS, payloads are launched pressurized to the station and are installed into EPP within the JEM-PM (JEM Pressurized Module). A unique feature of the JEM-PM is its airlock which is used to transfer from the pressurized part directly to the JEM-EF supported by the RMS (Robotic Manipulation System) which is very efficient in terms of required crew resources.
Due to the high frequency of flights and the flexibility of the vehicle manifests the risk of a delay in the payload readiness can be mitigated by delaying to the next flight opportunity which on average is available not more than two months later. The launch within the system of ISS resupply flights introduces an unparalleled reliability of the access to low Earth orbit for small size payloads. The size of the payload items is limited by handling constraints on-board the ISS. Therefore, the standard experiment payload size is a multiple of a 4U CubeSat, which demands miniaturized hardware solutions. However, every payload can extensively use all ISS resources required: mass is not limited, power only limited by the payload heat radiation capability, the datalink is a USB 2.0 standard bus enabling a real-time and private data link connecting the ground operator directly at his desk.
The airlock is nominally operated once a week with a maximum frequency of two operations per day. EPP payloads will be exchanged on a periodic basis in consistency with the ISS operational planning. At a prescheduled time the crew removes the payload items from their CTB (Cargo Transportation Bag) and installs them on the EPP inside the Japanese module. When all payload items are installed, the crew places the EPP on the JEM airlock slide table to move it inside the airlock. - Upon inner hatch closure the airlock is depressurized in a time frame of approximately six hours. At completed depressurization and remote opening of the outer hatch the crew uses the slide table to further move the EPP outside the airlock and the JEM-RMS to take EPP from the slide table and to install it on JEM-EF. Alternatively, the JEM-RMS is able to point the fully equipped EPP into predefined directions while supplying power under the same conditions as on the JEM-EF. The small size EPP is manifested for the JEM-EF site No. 4 until the year 2020 (Figure 16). At this position, the platform has an excellent view into the nadir direction, power supply, data connection via the standard PIU (Payload Interface Unit) and video surveillance if required. The EPP Service is a full end-to-end service covering the entire mission (Table 5).
Payload items are transported pressurized with various available supply vehicles. Due to the high frequency of flights and the flexibility of the vehicle manifests the risk of a delay in the payload readiness can be mitigated by delaying its transportation to the next flight opportunity.
The EPP is outfitted inside the JEM-PM by the ISS crew. This operation allows the verification of payload to EPP connection.
Installation outside ISS
The integrated EPP is transferred to the exterior of the station using the JEM airlock and JEM-RMS. This operation again avoids the EVA and can be performed fully remotely.
Once installed on the JEM-EF, EPP immediately starts to perform the payload missions. It supplies power and provides a data link to the active payloads while monitoring the platform health status and controlling the payload operations.
At the end of the mission cycle the EPP is brought back into the JEM Pressurized Module again using the JEM-RMS, airlock and slide table operation.
Payload or sample return
As option payload items or smaller samples can be returned to Earth within NASA's payload return capacities. The return opportunities are, however, significantly fewer in number compared to the number of launch opportunities.
Programmatic Approach and Mission Schedule:
The EPP standard mission scenario is designed to provide fast-track and reliable access to the ISS. In the nominal mission scenario payload items are installed not later than one year after the contractual agreement, stay in operation for 15 weeks, and are returned to the customer as an optional service. The nominal mission schedule in terms of time to launch (L) is defined in Table 6 together with the activities performed and deliverables to be produced by the parties involved. Compared to the current lead times to be expected in the standard ways to access ISS which are in the order of 27 months, the EPP mission scenario is more than twice as fast. Furthermore, the items required and processes involved as summarized in Table 6 show the paradigm change in ISS payload missions initiated by the EPP Service. The service provider only requires hardware qualification with respect to safety certification in the ISS Program and the verification of interfaces to the EPP system. As a fully commercial approach the EPP Service neither requires the payload developer to demonstrate functionality nor to justify mission performance. With this philosophy, the EPP Service reduces efforts required for review processes significantly and to increase the efficiency mission budgets are spent.
Time to Launch
EPP Service Provider
Contract signature and payload mission requirements definition
- Payload functional description
Initiation of ISS safety process
Provision of payload thermal mathematical model
- Upload manifesting
Description of Flight Operations
Review of Flight Operations with ISS program
Payload handover to service provider
Environmental and functional tests until L-1
Payload installation on EPP
Flight Operations for 15 weeks
NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) System
• December 10, 2013: The NRCSD is a self-contained CubeSat deployer system that mechanically and electrically isolates CubeSats from the ISS, cargo resupply vehicles, and ISS crew. The NRCSD design is compliant with NASA ISS flight safety requirements and is space qualified. 42)
The NRCSD is a rectangular tube that consists of anodized aluminum plates, base plate assembly, access panels and deployer doors. The NRCSD deployer doors are located on the forward end, the base plate assembly is located on the aft end, and access panels are provided on the top. The inside walls of the NRCSD are smooth bore design to minimize and/or preclude hang-up or jamming of CubeSat appendages during deployment, should these become released prematurely. However, deployable systems shall be designed such that there is no intentional contact with the inside walls of the NRCSD.
Access to CubeSat Inhibit Switches and Service Ports: Access for RBF (Remove Before Flight) pins and charging systems during the integration process is provided through access panels located on the topside (+Y axis) of the NRCSD as shown in Figure 19. CubeSats are accessible only through the access panels when integrated with the NRCSD.
For a deployment, the NRCSD platform is moved outside via the Kibo Module’s Airlock and slide table that allows the JEMRMS (Japanese Experimental Module Remote Manipulator System) to move the deployers to the correct orientation for the satellite release and also provides command and control to the deployers. Each NRCSD is capable of holding six CubeSat Units – allowing it to launch 1U, 2U, 3U, 4U, 5U, and 6U (2 x 3 and 1x 6) CubeSats. Note: NanRacks is planning on implementing the 2x3U capability late 2015.
Some background on the JEM/Kibo deployment facility
JEM/Kibo Airlock (AL) System of JAXA: Kibo's airlock system is dedicated to small-size goods only. The maximum size of an item that can pass through this airlock is 576 mm x 830 mm x 800 mm. The airlock, attached to the Kibo's PM (Pressurized Module), is being utilized when experiment equipment or materials need to be transferred between the PM, pressurized to one Earth atmosphere, and the EF (Exposed Facility), located in the space vacuum.
The airlock system is cylindrical and is attached to the pressurized module's manipulator side. One cylinder hatch is located on each side. The hatch on the PM side is called the inner hatch; the hatch exposed to space is called the outer hatch. Items to be transferred through the airlock are first fastened on a slide table then transferred by sliding this table. The inner hatch has a small window that enables viewing the inside of the airlock.
J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer)
• November 6, 2013: J-SSOD provides a novel, safe, small satellite launching capability to the ISS (International Space Station). The J-SSOD is a unique satellite launcher, handled by the JEMRMS (Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System), which provides containment and deployment mechanisms for several individual small satellites. The J-SSOD platform, including the satellite install cases holding the small satellites, is transferred by crew members into the vacuum of space through the JEM airlock for JEMRMS retrieval, positioning and deployment. 43) 44)
J-SSOD is composed of the Satellite Install Cases, Separation Mechanism and Electrical Box. J-SSOD is used by attaching it with MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform).
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) developed the unique system “J-SSOD” to deploy the satellite and inject it into orbit from ISS/Kibo, taking advantage of its unique function having both JEM AL (JEM Airlock) and JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulator System, a kind of robotic arm).
J-SSOD of JAXA is a mechanism for deploying Micro/Nanosatellites designed in accordance with CubeSat design specification (1U, 10 cm x 10 cm x10 cm) and 50 kg-size Microsatellite (55 cm x 35 cm x55 cm) from Kibo to space as shown in the Figure 22. The J-SSOD consists of mainly three components as shown in the Figure23, the Satellite Install Case with the spring deployment mechanism, the Separation Mechanism to maintain satellites inside the case by holding the hinged door of the Satellite Install Case and the Electrical Box. 45)
J-SSOD is installed on the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) for translation back and forth through the JEM AL(Airlock) and for the JEMRMS ((JEM-Remote Manipulator System) handling. The JEMRMS will position the platform with the J-SSOD towards the aft-nadir direction to assure retrograde deployment. The ballistic number of a satellite shall be less than 100 kg/m2 for faster orbiting decay of the satellite than the ISS. When the trigger commands are initiated, the separation mechanism rotates and opens the hinged door of the Satellite Install Case. The spring deployment mechanism in the case pushes out satellites with a spring force, and satellites are finally deployed. The Separation Mechanism and the Electronics Box are reusable on-orbit. The Satellite Install Case has no heater but is covered by the MLI (Multi-Layer Insulation) for passive thermal control.
CubeSat: 1U, 2U, or 3U (10 cm(W) x 10 cm(D) Height: 1U: 10 cm, 2U: 20 cm, 3U: 30 cm)
CubeSat size satellite: 1.33 kg or less per 1U
Near-circular orbit of ISS with altitude of approximately 380 - 420 km
Nadir-aft 45º from the ISS nadir side, in terms of ISS body coordinate system
CubeSats: 1.1 - 1.7 m/s
Legend to Figure 23: J-SSOD consists of mainly three components, the Satellite Install Case with the spring deployment mechanism, the Separation Mechanism to maintain satellites inside the case by holding the hinged door of the Satellite Install Case and the Electrical Box. The J-SSOD will be installed on the MPEP for translation back and forth through the JEM AL and for the JEMRMS handling.
Operation Scenario for J-SSOD Mission
The Micro/Nanosatellites deployed from "Kibo" are stored in the J-SSOD satellite install case and launched as a vehicle cargo to be transferred to the ISS by a transfer vehicle to ISS such as the "Kounotori" (HTV, H-II Transfer Vehicle). After being transferred to the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo", the satellite install case is installed to be held by the robotic arm controlled by an astronaut to deploy the satellites by a command signal sent from an astronaut or a ground controller. Operation scenario after receiving satellite on ground is shown in Figure 24.
Preparation for launch:
1) The satellite is installed in the Satellite Install Case and stowed inside the CTB (Cargo Transfer Bag) with cushion foam.
2) The CTB is handed over to cargo integrator of the transfer vehicle such as "Kounotori" (HTV) and launched to ISS/Kibo.
Legend to Figure 24: The satellite is installed in the Satellite Install Case and stowed inside the CTB (Cargo Transfer Bag) with cushion foam.
Installation on the Airlock slide table in JEM PM:
1) After launch the CTB is moved into the on-orbit JEM PM (JEM-Pressurized Module).
2) Unpacking of the CTB.
3) Open the inner hatch of Airlock and extend the Airlock slide table into the JEM PM.
4) Install the all Satellite Cases with Electrical Box and Separation Mechanisms on the MPEP on the Airlock and then connect electrical and signal cables.
J-SSOD Checkout and Setup for Deployment:
1) Connect the Checkout (C/O) cable to the MPEP.
2) Drive the separation mechanism by commands from the JEMRMS console ( or the ground) and check out the Separation Mechanism.
3) Confirm the separation mechanism goes back to initial position. Disconnect the C/O cable.
4) Remove the launch cover from the Satellite Install Case.
5) Remove the RBF pin from each satellite.
6) Put on the access-window cover to the Satellite Install Case for each satellite.
7) Retrieve the Airlock table into the JEM AL and close the inner hatch.
1) Depressurize inside of the Airlock.
2) Open the outer hatch of Airlock and extend the slide table into outer space.
3) Grapple the MPEP by the JEMRMS.
4) Supply heater power to J-SSOD from the JEMRMS.
5) Maneuver the MPEP to the appropriate deployment position.
6) Deploy the first set of satellites by commands from the JEMRMS console (or the ground).
7) Deploy the second set of satellites by commands from the JEMRMS console (or the ground).
Stowage after deployment:
1) Install the MPEP onto the Airlock slide table by the JEMRMS.
2) Retrieve the Airlock table into the JEM AL and close the outer hatch. Then repressurize inside of JEM AL.
• JAXA launched the H-IIB launch vehicle No.3 (H-IIB F3) on July 21, 2012 with the HTV-3 (H-II Transfer Vehicle-3)module onboard , also known as Kounotori-3 (White Stork), a cargo transfer vehicle to the International Space Station). The launch site was the TNSC (Tanegashima Space Center), Japan. 46) 47)
• The HTV-3/Kounotori-3 flight delivered 4600 kg of cargo to the International Space Station. This included internal supplies as well as unpressurized cargo delivered via the ULC (Unpressurized Logistics Carrier). The PLC (Pressurized Logistics Carrier) cargo is comprised of system equipment (61%), science hardware (20%), crew food (15%) and personal crew items (4%).
• The payload of HTV-3 contained also the J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer), developed by JAXA, with the objective to deploy small satellites (CubeSats) and inject them into orbit from JEM/Kibo (Japanese Experiment Module), which is one of the ISS (International Space Station) modules. J-SSOD is taking advantage of unique JEM/Kibo functions, namely the JEM-AL (Airlock) and JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulator System), a robotic arm installed on JEM/Kibo.
• The first orbital deployment of CubeSats from JEM/Kibo was successfully conducted in October 2012 through the J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) developed by JAXA.
• As of March 2016, more than 100 small satellites have been deployed from Kibo and the deployment system has been attracting global attention as being a new space transportation system for small satellites.
• JAXA also provides the opportunities for Asian nations as a gateway for sharing the values of ISS/Kibo and to promote capacity building to enroll young researchers, engineers and students utilizing Kibo. Furthermore, since 2015, JAXA has collaborated with UNOOSA (United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs) for providing CubeSat deployment opportunities from Kibo in order to facilitate improved space technologies in developing countries.
• The HTV-6/Kounotori-6 aboard the H-IIB vehicle, launched to the ISS on December 9, 2016, delivered an upgraded J-SSOD (JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer). The J-SSOD-2 features the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) as its structural backbone, but hosts four 3U deployers for a total capacity of 12 CubeSat Units. — JAXA plans to send an 18U deployer to ISS on the next HTV flight followed by a 48U deployer in 2019. 48)
Repair of the NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) system
The deployer system, used to eject CubeSat-sized spacecraft from the ISS, broke down in August 2014, failing to release satellites when commanded. During the troubleshooting process in September, two satellites were inadvertently released. The deployers were returned inside the ISS through the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module in mid-September. 49) 50)
While NanoRacks, the Houston-based company that provided the deployers, has built new deployers to correct the problem, it worked with NASA and other ISS partners to also attempt to repair the deployers currently on the station. After several months of hard work, the NanoRacks team was able to make adjustments to the deployers.
The problems with the deployers were traced to screws that were not tightened correctly as well as issues with a power feed, according to Jeffrey Manber, managing director of NanoRacks. The repair work included installation of a new electronics system for the deployer and latches to prevent the premature deployment of the satellites. A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft delivered the repair hardware to the ISS in January 2015. The station’s crew made the repairs and successfully tested the latches on Feb. 17, and planned to attempt satellite deployments in the week of Feb. 23, 2015.
Those repair plans took several months of coordination with NASA, Roscosmos, the Japanese space agency JAXA, and the Aerospace Corp., who NanoRacks had brought in to support the investigation of the deployer problem. “We had to go through a review process” with those space agencies, according to Manber. “There was some questioning about whether we should attempt this on-orbit repair, but NASA has been very supportive.”
Manber said the company went through the time and effort of the repair process, instead of waiting to ship new deployers to the station, to demonstrate that the ISS is a “robust” platform for commercialization. He cautioned that there’s no guarantee that the repairs will fix the problems with the deployers, but that the addition of the latches, specifically requested by JAXA, should eliminate any risk to the station from an accidental deployment of satellites.
• On Feb. 27, 2015, NanoRacks began deployment from the International Space Station (ISS) of the remainder of our Orb-2 CubeSat Mission which includes 12 Planet Labs Doves. Of these Doves, ten are the remainder of Flock-1B launched on Orb-2, and two are the new Flock-1D' Doves, launched on SpaceX CRS-5 (January 10, 2015). 51) 52)
This was NanoRacks first deployment attempt since recent on-orbit repairs and the company is excited to announce a successful first deploy.
• March 11, 2015: NanoRacks is pleased to announce the successful completion of it's third full round of CubeSat deployments from the International Space Station. 53)
- Deployed from the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer were 16 CubeSats since the February 27, 2015 deployment window opened. Included were 12 Planet Labs Doves (10 Flock-1B, 2 Flock-1D'), Spaceflight Services and MIT's MicroMAS, San Jose University and Greece's LambdaSat, NASA Ames' TechEdSat-4, and the GEARRSat CubeSat.
NanoRacks LLC of Houston, TX, is the only commercial company of NASA, providing on-board and on-ground services to the general 'small payload' research community of the International Space Station (ISS).
The NanoRacks deployment services for small satellites started initially by using the J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) of JAXA. In October 2012, NanoRacks became the first company to coordinate the deployment of small satellites (CubeSats/nanosatellites) from the ISS via the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module. This deployment was done by NanoRacks using J-SSOD.
In 2013, NanoRacks sought permission from NASA to complement the JAXA J-SSOD with a larger model, NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) , provided by NanoRacks to hold larger and more satellites. This new NanoRacks deployer system, was designed, manufactured and acceptance-tested by NanoRacks and launched on the Orbital Sciences Cygnus CRS-1 flight on January 9, 2014. It permitted NanoRacks the subsequent release of 33 CubeSats of their customers, using the new NanoRacks deployer system with the JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulating System) of JAXA – to grapple and position for deployment.
The NRCSD deployer system broke down in August 2014, failing to release satellites when commanded. During the troubleshooting process in September, two satellites were inadvertently released. The deployers were returned inside the ISS through the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module in mid-September.
NanoRacks had built new deployers to correct the problem, it worked with NASA and other ISS partners to also attempt to repair the deployers currently on the station. After several months of hard work, the NanoRacks team was able to make adjustments to the deployers. The problems with the deployers were traced to screws that were not tightened correctly as well as issues with a power feed.
The repair work included installation of a new electronics system for the deployer and latches to prevent the premature deployment of the satellites. A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft delivered the repair hardware to the ISS in January 2015. The station’s crew made the repairs and successfully tested the latches on Feb. 17, and planned to attempt satellite deployments in the week of Feb. 23, 2015.
Since Feb, 27, 2015, a new deployment window opened. Included were 12 Planet Labs Doves (10 Flock-1B, 2 Flock-1D'), Spaceflight Services and MIT's MicroMAS, San Jose University and Greece's LambdaSat, NASA Ames' TechEdSat-4, and the GEARRSat CubeSat. 53)
NASA/JSC (Johnson Space Center) in collaboration with the STP (Space Test Program) of DoD developed this dedicated ISS microsatellite deployment system named Cyclops - which is also known as SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems). 55) 56) 57) 58)
The system utilizes NASA’s ISS resupply vehicles to launch microsatellites to the ISS in a controlled pressurized environment in soft stow bags. The satellites will then be processed through the ISS pressurized environment by the astronaut crew allowing satellite system diagnostics prior to orbit insertion. Orbit insertion is achieved through use of JAXA's (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Experiment Module Robotic Airlock (JEM Airlock), and one of the ISS Robotic Arms.
Cyclops operates from the JEM and takes advantage of the airlock's existing slide table. The launcher is stowed inside the [space station] for use whenever a satellite is ready to be deployed. Cyclops is placed onto the airlock slide table with the attached satellite and processed through to the external environment. Cyclops, with its attached satellite, is subsequently grasped by the robotic arm and taken to the deployment position. Cyclops then deploys the satellite and is returned to the airlock where it is processed back through and stowed internally for future utilization. The design utilizes the Japanese robotic arm but does have the capability to use the space station's main robotic arm if necessary.
The general Cyclops layout is shown in Figure 32. Cyclops interfaces with the JEM Airlock (AL) Slide Table, the ISS Robotic Arms, and the deployable satellites. It is being designed to be able to be utilized for the duration of the ISS mission for the deployment of microsatellites. The platform has a size of ~ 127 cm L x 61 cm W x 7.6 cm H, capable of deploying satellites of any geometry up to 100 kg, contingent upon the satellites meeting all Cyclops and ISS safety requirements. These requirements are under development and will be available from the ISS Program when completed.
Cyclops hardware components: Cyclops is a structural/mechanical system that consists of the following two major components: the Cyclops Unit and the Cyclops Unique Tools. The Cyclops Unit is the system used for airlock translation and deployment. The Cyclops Unique Tools, which are tools used by the crew for Cyclops setup, remain internal to ISS and ensure the Cyclops Unit is properly configured once the deployable payload is installed. The operational nomenclature or Op-Nom “Cyclops” is typically used to refer to only the Cyclops Unit, i.e. the deployment system that is moved and actuated by the robotic arm. 59)
The Cyclops Unit itself is comprised of the Mechanical Deployment Subsystem, the Retention & Release Mechanism and the Robotic Grasp Fixture Interface Plate.
The Mechanical Deployment Subsystem includes the Primary Deployment (pusher-plate) Mechanism, the IVA Preload Interface (for the primary system) as well as a back-up Secondary Spring Deployment Mechanism that will deploy the payload in the event of a pusher-plate mechanism failure.
The RRM (Retention & Release Mechanism) is used to securely retain the payload during translation operations and to release the payload when the Cyclops Unit is actuated for deployment.
The Robotic Grasp Fixture Interface Plate enables robotic translation by the JEM Small Fine Arm (SFA) or by the SPDM (Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) as well as the initialization of Cyclops’s deployment function.
Launch: The Cyclops was launched as a secondary payload of the SpaceX-4 CRS (Commercial Resupply Service) mission, on September 21, 2014. Cyclops was part of the soft-stow cargo allotment on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (Falcon-9v1.1 launch vehicle) of the SpX-4 (SpaceX CRS-4) resupply mission to the ISS. Cyclops will enhance the space station's satellite deployment capabilities. 60) 61)
Secondary payloads on the SpaceX CRS-4 mission were:
• Arkyd-3 is a 3U CubeSat technology demonstrator (4 kg) from the private company Planetary Resources Inc. of Bellevue, WA, USA, (formerly known as Arkyd Astronautics). The objective is to test the technology used on the future larger Arkyd-100 space telescope. The company has contracted with NanoRacks to take the Arkyd-3 nanosatellite to the ISS where it will be released from the airlock in the Kibo module. 62)
• SpinSat, a microsatellite (57 kg) of NRL (Naval Research Laboratory), Washington D.C.
• SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems). This launcher will provide still another means to release other small satellites from the ISS. This system is also known by the name of Cyclops and is described in the SpinSat file on the eoPortal. 63)
Note: Cyclops as well as SpinSat are described in separate files of the eoPortal.
SpinSat, an aluminum sphere of 558 mm in diameter and a mass of 57 kg, was the first deployment of Cyclops from the ISS.
• Successful deployment of SpinSat, using the Cyclops deployment system, from the airlock of the JEM, took place on Nov. 28, 2014 at 14:30 UTC into a 400 km orbit at 51.65º inclination. This was the first time a new deployment mechanism was used on the ISS to pave the way for future deployments of satellites of different sizes and masses using the robotics system of the Space Station.
- For the deployment, the crew of the Space Station (Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts) installed the satellite on the Cyclops (SSIKLOPS) deployer using a single bracket. The deployer was then installed on the slide table of the Airlock of the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) and necessary leak checks were completed before the outer hatch of the airlock was opened and the slide table was extended to allow the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) to grapple the Cyclops deployer. The arm was maneuvered to the proper position to release the satellite into a specific direction that ensures a safe departure path from ISS without any risk of re-contact on subsequent orbits. 64) 65)
- Once the SpinSat was deployed, the slide table was retracted and the outer hatch closed.
NanoRacks deployment services for small satellites
On July 21, 2012, JAXA launched the HTV-3 module to the ISS. The J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) of JAXA was a payload on this flight along with five CubeSats that were planned to be deployed by the J-SSOD mounted on the JEMRMS (JEM- Remote Manipulator System), a robotic arm, later in 2012. The CubeSats were: RAIKO (Japan), FITSAT-1 (Japan), WE WISH (Japan), F-1 (Vietnam) and TechEdSat-1 (USA). The five CubeSats were deployed successfully on Oct. 4, 2012 by the JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide using the newly installed J-SSOD. This represented the first deployment service of J-SSOD.
• In October 2012, NanoRacks became the first company to coordinate the deployment of small satellites (CubeSats/nanosatellites) from the ISS via the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module. This deployment was done by NanoRacks using J-SSOD.
- The first NanoRacks customer was FPT University of Hanoi, Vietnam. Their F-1 CubeSat was developed by young engineers and students at FSpace laboratory at FPT University of Hanoi. The mission of F-1 was to “survive” the space environment for one month, measuring temperature and magnetic data while taking low-resolution photos of Earth. Note: NanoRacks worked with JAXA to deliver the CubeSat and comply to the J-SSOD standards. 66)
• In 2013, NanoRacks sought permission from NASA to complement the JAXA small satellite deployers, called J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer), with a larger model, NRCSD, provided by NanoRacks to hold larger and more satellites. This new NanoRacks deployer system, was designed, manufactured and acceptance-tested by NanoRacks and launched on the Orbital Sciences Cygnus CRS-1 flight on January 9, 2014. It permitted NanoRacks the subsequent release of 33 CubeSats of their customers, using the new NanoRacks deployer system with the JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulating System) of JAXA – to grapple and position for deployment (Ref. 72).
The NanoRacks CubeSats/nanosatellites are delivered to the ISS already integrated within a NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer). The NRCSDs can be stored inside the ISS until a deployment is requested. 68)
The NRCSD was designed by NanoRacks and built under contract by Quad-M, Inc. Each NanoRacks CubeSat Mission currently has 16 NRCSD's, with a total of 96U (6U per deployer). The NRCSD's were designed not only just to accommodate larger (longer) nanosatellites, but also to increase the deployment capacity per CubeSat mission.
The first set of NRCSD's was launched on Cygnus CRS Orb-1 on January 9, 2014. The NRCSDs were designed so that NanoRacks could deploy more satellites and larger payloads. The NRCSDs utilize the same facilities (infrastructure) as the J-SSOD (mounts to slide table via MPEP, passes through the JEM airlock, etc).
• The first CubeSats deployed were Planet Labs Doves (28 3U CubeSats). The deployments from Orb-1 occurred in February, 2014. While Planet Labs was the majority of the manifest, there were a number of other unique CubeSats on the mission. The deployers then come down from the ISS and are refurbished. NanoRacks then send another 16 up on each Orbital CSR mission.
• The secondary payloads (Flock-1b, TechEdSat-4, MicroMAS-1, GEARSSAAT, and LambdaSat), launched on Cygnus CRS Orb-2 on July 13, 2014. They will be deployed from the Space Station using a deployment mechanism supplied by NanoRacks. The System uses the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) of the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) to which the NRCSDs (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployers) are attached. The dispenser holds up to sixteen 3U CubeSats and is attached to the MPEP that can be grappled by the JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulator System) and deploy the satellites in pairs upon command issued from inside the ISS or the JAXA Control Center in Tsukuba, Japan.
For a deployment, the platform is moved outside via the Kibo Module’s Airlock and slide table that allows the JEMRMS to move the deployers to the correct orientation for the satellite release and also provides command and control to the deployers. Each NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer) is capable of holding six CubeSat Units - allowing it to launch two 3U satellites or a number of 2U and 1U satellites.
Deploying CubeSats from ISS has a number of benefits. Launching the vehicles aboard the logistics carrier of ISS visiting vehicle's reduces the vibration and loads they have to encounter during launch. In addition, they can be packed in protective materials so that the probability of CubeSat damage during launch is reduced significantly. Also, once arriving at the Space Station, the satellites can be checked pre-deployment, making sure any damage is detected before committing them to flight.
In 2014, NanoRacks' commercial utilization of ISS is changing not just the perception of commercial markets in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), but the very behavior of NASA and the other ISS agencies. Skepticism and confrontation towards working side by side with a commercial company’s self funded hardware and services has given way to commercial cooperation and shared resources. 72)
Transport flight to the ISS
HTV-3 (JAXA), July 21, 2012
F-1 (1U, FPT University of Hannoi, Uppsala University, Scweden)
Oct. 4, 2012
HTV-4 (JAXA), Aug. 3, 2013
ArduSat-1, ArduSat-X (two 1U’s of NanoSatisfi
Nov. 19 & 20, 2013
Cygnus Orb-1, Jan. 9, 2014
- 28 Doves (3U each of Planet Labs Flock-1A series)
Cygnus Orb-2, July 13, 2014
- 28 Doves (3U each of Planet Labs Flock-1B series)
Cygnus Orb-3, Oct. 28, 2014
- 26 Doves (3U each of Planet Labs Flock-1D)
NanoRacks commercial infrastructure aboard the ISS on hosted CubeLab modules
• July 23, 2010: Onboard the ISS, the NanoRacks platforms are installed in ER (Express Rack) locker inserts to supply power and USB data transfer capability for NanoRacks Modules. Each NanoRacks Module must conform to a standard size of approximately 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm with a mass of 1 kg. Every NanoRacks Module has a different educational or industrial researcher, the experiments supported cover a wide range of disciplines, some NanoRacks Modules serve as sorties. An ISS crew member powers down the NanoRacks Platform and then plugs in the resupplied NanoRacks Modules. The NanoRacks Platform is powered up, and the data cable between the associated USB port on the NanoRacks Platform front panel and an Express Laptop computer is plugged in to collect data and download at designated times.
The mantra of NanoRacks is to reduce the cost and minimize the time required to fly items in space. As such, in the first two years of operations, NanoRacks has launched two permanent facilities and thirteen different experiments on board the Shuttle, HTV, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft as well as returned payloads on the Shuttle and Soyuz.
NanoRacks is a commercially operated research facility onboard the ISS, designed and developed by NanoRacks LLC of Houston, TX, and of Laguna Woods, CA, USA. Each platform provides room for up to 16 customer payloads to plug effortlessly into a standard USB connector, which provides both power and data connectivity. Its PnP (Plug-n-Play) system uses a simple, standardized interface that reduces payload integration cost and schedule for nano-scale research on the orbiting laboratory. 74)
NanoRacks LLC is working under a Space Act Agreement awarded by NASA from a competitive announcement of opportunity for the use of the National Laboratory on the International Space Station. NanoRacks LLC signed the Space Act Agreement in September 2009 and partnered with Kentucky Space and the Space Systems Laboratory (SSL) at the University of Kentucky (UK). The funding to build and certify the rack inserts has come exclusively from NanoRacks and their customers.
The Kentucky Space Consortium, or simply “Kentucky Space”, was founded in early 2006 (it is based in Lexington, KY). The universities involved in this partnership are: University of Kentucky, Murray State University, Morehead State University, KCTCS (Kentucky Community & Technical College System), University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University.
The NanoRacks platform and the CubeLab standard provide a unique new opportunity for inexpensive repeatable access to the ISS for small payloads. The NanoRacks platform serves as the interface between CubeLab modules and the ISS while providing mechanical attachment, power, and data transfer to each module. The CubeLab standard defines mechanical and electrical requirements for CubeLab modules. CubeLabs can be flown to and from the ISS on a variety of manned and unmanned vehicles to support a wide variety of microgravity experiments. Once aboard the ISS CubeLabs are installed in the NanoRacks platforms. 75) 76) 77) 78) 79)
NASA’s International Space Station National Laboratory program and NanoRacks, LLC signed a Space Act Agreement on September 9, 2009 that started the commercial space efforts of NanoRacks. The mantra of NanoRacks is to reduce the cost and minimize the time required to fly items in space. As such, in the first two years of operations NanoRacks has launched two permanent facilities and thirteen different experiments on board the Shuttle, HTV, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft as well as returned payloads on the Shuttle and Soyuz. 80)
The NanoRacks platforms are permanently installed in an EXPRESS (EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to the Space Station) Rack Locker aboard the ISS.
In July and August 2010, the ISS was outfitted with the first two NanoRack platforms, flown to orbit on STS-131 (19A) on April 5, 2010 and STS-132 (ULF4) on May 14, 2010, giving the ISS the capacity to support up to 32 1U CubeLab modules. The NanoRack-1 and NanoRack-2 were installed in EXPRESS Rack-4 which is accommodated in JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) of ISS.
With the NanoRacks/CubeLab approach, only the CubeLab modules need be carried to/from the ISS which can be achieved in standard CTBs (Cargo Transfer Bags) compatible with any of the existing and planned cargo vehicles that service the ISS (e.g., Progress, ATV, HTV, and DragonLab). - After the operational life of the individual CubeLab Modules, they can be disposed of or returned on Shuttle, Soyuz, or DragonLab.
The front panel of a NanoRacks platform, which is visible to the astronauts once installed in the locker, contains the ISS power connector, a circuit breaker, a status LED, and 16 USB type B female connectors. The only connection to the station is a 28 V power cable. To command CubeLabs or to download experiment results, an EXPRESS Rack Laptop Computer (ELC) is connected to the appropriate USB connector corresponding to each CubeLab.
The NanoRacks system itself fits inside an EXPRESS Rack locker and holds up to 16 CubeLabs. Figure 42 shows the basic CubeLab form factor (10 cm cube), the configuration of CubeLabs on the NanoRack, and the EXPRESS Rack locker that encloses the Rack. Figure 39 (right side) shows an exploded view of the EXPRESS Rack and the configuration of the lockers. EXPRESS Racks are located in several modules throughout the ISS.
The CubeLab standard leverages the CubeSat form-factor (10 cm cube) which has revolutionized access to space for free-flying satellites throughout the last decade. A goal of the NanoRacks CubeLab facility on ISS is also to alleviate in particular the long waits of domestic U.S. CubeSat projects for a launch opportunity (Ref. 92).
Size of 1U CubeLab module
10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm
≤ 1 kg, 2 W (max)
5 VDC (max), 400 mA (max)
2 W (max)
Intermittent USB (Universal Serial Bus) connectivity
Negotiated as needed
Timeframe of experiment delivery
L-6 to L-3 months
Negotiated as needed
The NanoRacks platform and CubeLab standard addresses these issues by providing 1) regular, fast turn-around access, 2) a reasonable cost and 3) by operating under a Space Act Agreement with NASA, provides access to an array of commercial and foreign launch vehicles with no ITAR concerns.
The CubeLab standard is designed to be flexible to accommodate a large number of mission concepts. The generic CubeLab is self-contained, autonomous, and disposable after the mission is over. It collects data from an experiment, e.g. sensor values, images from a camera, images from a microscope, etc., and saves the data as a file on a USB mass storage device. Files are then transferred from the CubeLab to a laptop by the crew and downlinked to MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) and archived at the Space Systems Lab for retrieval and analysis by the developer.
The CubeLab standard also allows more complicated mission concepts which include downmass, e.g. module return or sample return, and/or crew interaction. The crew interaction could be as simple as experiment activation to as complicated as real time interaction with a module. Also possible are unpowered experiments which necessitate sample return and/or crew interaction, e.g. radiation exposure, liquid mixing, crystal growth, etc. The standard is designed to be flexible enough that most mission concepts can be accommodated.
Larger CubeLab modules are possible with 2U (10 cm x 10 cm x 20 cm), 4U (10 cm x 10 cm x 40 cm), and up to 2U x 4U (10 cm x 20 cm x 40 cm) configurations, Figure 41 shows the various CubeLab form-factor layouts to accommodate larger payloads. CubeLab modules are physically attached to the NanoRacks platform using USB type B connectors.
CubeLab payloads have to undergo a NASA flight verification process to be accepted for operating within the EXPRESS Rack of the ISS. This verification process outlines an array of environmental, electronic, safety, and human factor tests which developers must be cognizant of during design and planning phases. A CubeLab ICD (Interface Control Document) has been developed to ensure that CubeLab modules integrated into the NanoRacks platform will conform to all of these higher-level requirements. 81)
Real-time operations aboard the ISS, including installation, activation, data transfer, and deactivation of CubeLab modules, are coordinated by the NanoRacks Operations Center in the SSL (Space Systems Laboratory) at the University of Kentucky through the HOSC (Huntsville Operations Support Center) at MSFC. The NanoRacks/SSL Operations Center consists of a secure operation console tied into NASA voice loops, real-time astronaut and ground systems scheduling systems, procedure development and viewing tools, realtime telemetry feeds, and live high-definition video feeds from the ISS.
Console support is required during all real-time operations on board the ISS; thus, the Operations Center voice loops are manned at all times during NanoRacks engineering and CubeLab science operations and on-call 24/7. Console support ensures the integrity of CubeLab science goals and consists of monitoring telemetry feeds to ensure nominal current draw and temperatures, reviewing procedures and timelines, and monitoring NASA science and engineering voice loops to respond to astronaut and controller questions and coordinate crew time and resources.
The Operations Center suite of resources to support CubeLab operations include: The NASA Internet Voice Distribution System (IVoDS) providing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP); International Procedure Viewer (iPV) and On-Board Short Term Plan Viewer (OSTPV) for astronaut schedules and procedures, respectively; Enhanced HOSC System (EHS) and Enhanced HOSC System PC (EPC) for telemetry views; and the Telescience Resource Kit (TReK), for remote commanding. By maintaining all NASA protocols for internet and machine security, password protection, and physical facilities security, the Operations Center serves as an essential communication link between NASA and CubeLab developers.
NanoRacks LLC, working with its partner Kentucky Space, has a turnkey operational system that can handle all aspects of customer requirements, from payload development, to NASA integration to mission operations, all in a customer friendly environment.
The plug-and-play nature of the NanoRacks-CubeLab modules allows for interested parties, such as universities or commercial companies, to fly small and relatively inexpensive payloads aboard the station. This enables microgravity research for those who may not otherwise have had the opportunity.
Some early CubeLab experiments
• On Sept. 21, 2009, NanoRacks LLC announced plans to send “CubeLab standard” experiments to the ISS for installation in NanoRacks.
• In 2010, four CubeLab modules were flown to the ISS. Two modules, CubeLab1 and CubeLab-2, were flown with each NanoRacks platform. Each of the four modules was designed to test the effects of ionizing radiation on commercial flash memory devices inside the EXPRESS Rack locker. The motivation of this testing was that COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) electronic components can suffer from SEEs (Single Event Effects) in the presence of radiation in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and baseline testing of these components should provide valuable guidance for future CubeLab module development (Ref. 92).
- CubeLab-1, developed by Kentucky Space, interfaced with the NanoRacks platform. Following Kentucky Space’s and NASA’s testing requirements, CubeLab-1 interfaced with the NanoRacks platform, drew power, and was configured to act as a simple flash drive. This was to ensure the basic function of the NanoRack, providing electrical and data connectivity as well as structural support, worked in microgravity as expected. It also tested the radiation susceptibility of SD cards, which are also used in Kentucky Space’s orbital CubeSat, KySat-1. 82)
- The primary objective of CubeLab-2 was to test the radiation susceptibility of the SD (Secure Digital ) cards (a non-volatile memory card format) that are used in KySat-1. Various shielding methods were used in an effort to find effective ways to reduce radiation susceptibility of flash memory. 83)
The first module to return from orbit was CubeLab-2 on May 26, 2010 aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis after spending six weeks in orbit. Once all of the first four CubeLab modules are returned (on STS-133, 134, and 135 in late 2011) the flash memory devices will be compared to ground control CubeLabs and each other to compare the affects of SEEs during for various durations on-orbit.
• In 2011, a wide variety of CubeLab modules are being developed by High-school teams, Universities, and industrial partners. The experiments include microgravity fluid mixing experiments, plant growth, materials properties investigations, pharmaceutical experiments and educational outreach activities. Additionally a digital microscope facility is manifested for flight to the ISS for installation in the NanoRacks Platform as an additional analysis tool for future CubeLab developers.
• On Jan. 22, 2011, the HTV-2 (H-II Transfer Vehicle 2) of JAXA was launched from TNSC (Tanegashima Space Center), Japan. On Jan. 27, HTV-2 arrived at the ISS. Three NanoRacks payloads were part of the HTV-2 cargo - which were those from Valley Christian High-school of San Jose, CA, Ohio State University (OSU), and a NanoRacks research facility hardware.
- The experiment of Valley Christian School is a 2U CubeLab module containing its own growing environment and monitoring system designed by students at Valley Christian. The objective is to record and relay data on plant growth in an effort to answer questions related to the effect of micro-gravity on the cultivation of plants in long duration space flight. The experiment involved testing whether plant-based food can be grown to sustain astronauts during prolonged space missions. 84) 85)
- The OSU experiment is focused on isolating the effect of gravity on the growth of ceria nanoparticles. Ceria (CeO2) is used as a support or catalyst in many technologically important reactions, such as high-temperature coatings for jet engines, solid oxide fuel cells for next-generation automobiles, and emissions abatement. The experiment will contribute information on whether reduced gravity leads to a higher level of performance for the catalyst. 86)
- The NanoRacks research facility hardware is the CubeLab-5 module, a USB microscope for use by crew members to analyze and digitally transfer images of the ISS on-orbit environment samples. As such, the CubeLab-5 module remains stowed as a permanent NanoRacks module. The objective of the CubeLab-5 module is to support future investigations onboard the ISS.
• On March 8, 2011, the term “CubeLab” became a registered trademark, CubeLab™, of Kentucky Space, LLC. 87)
The NanoRacks facilities inside the ISS, a component of the U.S. National Lab, include:
1) The primary NanoRacks lab, called NanoLab, is a turnkey commercial lab system in the ISS that provides payload opportunities using the CubeSat form factor. The system consists of proprietary equipment based around a series of plug-and-play modules. 88)
The NanoLab is the core payload hardware of NanoRacks, a powerful box in the CubeSat form factor (10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm). Every NanoLab has a circuit board that activates the experiment, turns it off and can be functioned for other activities. The NanoLabs are plugged into the NanoRacks research platforms via a normal USB port, allowing data and power to flow. A single NanoLab is 1U in size; NanoRacks can also handle 2U, or 4U or 2 x 4U sizes. The NanoRacks fee for a customer depends on the size of the NanoLab.
2) NanoRacks Platforms 1 and 2: These two research platforms hold the basic NanoLab assembly - providing power and data transfer capabilities to operate investigations in microgravity. Each NanoRacks Platform is approximately 43 cm x 23 cm x 50 cm in size with a mass of ~5.4 kg. The NanoRacks platforms are designed for use within the pressurized space station environment. Each platform provides room for up to 16 payload slots in the CubeSat form factor to plug effortlessly into a standard USB connector, which provides both power and data connectivity. Its plug and play system uses a simple, standardized interface that reduces payload integration cost and schedule for nanoscale research in microgravity. 89) 90)
3) NanoRacks Platform 3: The Platform 3, also called NanoRacks Frame 3, is the latest addition of the NanoRacks product line and an upgrade for more advanced payloads. Frame 3 accommodates a total of 3 x 4U (10 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm) payloads, and has advanced features including an internal computer with its own crew interface facility for easier payload software development. To accommodate advanced experiments and demonstrations, Frame 3 can provide up to 50 W of power to a payload via USB and other data connections.
4) NanoRacks Centrifuge: This device is permanently housed on the ISS providing microgravity experimentation opportunities for a customer's microgravity research. The centrifuge, developed with Astrium NA (North America), occupies just one slot in the NanoRacks Frame 3 platform (Figure 46). The centrifuge, previously flown on a number of STS missions, can simulate Earth, Moon and Mars gravity.
5) NanoRacks Microscope: Onboard, there are two microscopes available. Microscope-1 plugs into any ISS laptop, allowing crew members to adjust the position of the samples on the slide and focus the microscope as well as choose the magnification from the 5X, 10X or 20X objectives. - When the desired images are captured, the crew member will copy them from the USB Video Device to the destination file for later downlink to your team on the ground.
6) NanoRacks Plate Reader: The Plate Reader opens the door to new sophisticated research opportunities. The Plate Reader-1 holds 96 samples allowing veteran space researchers and those new to space, to perform the same state of the art analysis now done in laboratories on the Earth.
- Off the shelf MD (Molecular Devices) M5E instrument
- Takes 1 minute analysis for 96 wells
- Temperature controlled (heated)
- Stirring function
- Side cuvette port
- The instrument is operational since the 2nd quarter of 2012.
7) NanoRacks MixStix: This device allows for a powerful, non-powered environment for fluid and biological research onboard the ISS. The dedicated 2U NanoLab research modules provide housing for up to twenty four individual MixStix (Fluids Mixing Enclosures), allowing all microgravity reactions and materials to be captured for analysis on the ISS or returned to Earth via the Soyuz. 91)
All results are automatically generated by the mixing of the fluids in the microgravity environment after being manipulated (cracked open) by the ISS crew member by flexing the Teflon tube in the same manner as activating a glow stick.
• Initial installation on ISS: In July and August 2010, the ISS was outfitted with the first two NanoRacks platforms, flown to orbit on STS-131 (19A) on April 5, 2010 and STS-132 (ULF4) on May 14, 2010, giving the ISS the capacity to support up to 32 1U NanoLab modules. The NanoRacks-1 and NanoRacks-2 were permanently installed in Express Rack-4 which is accommodated in JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) of ISS.
- In 2010, four NanoLab modules were flown to the ISS. Two modules, NanoLab-1 and NanoLab-2, were flown with each NanoRacks platform. Each of the four modules was designed to test the effects of ionizing radiation on commercial flash memory devices inside the Express Rack locker. The motivation of this testing was that COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) electronic components can suffer from SEEs (Single Event Effects) in the presence of radiation in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and baseline testing of these components should provide valuable guidance for future NanoLab module development. 92)
• NanoRacks went operational onboard the ISS in August 2010. 93)
- On Jan. 22, 2011, HTV-2 of JAXA was launched from TNSC, Japan. In its payload was also a 2U NanoLab experiment of a student team from Valley Christian High School, San Jose, CA, USA. The experiment used a student-designed, self-contained plant-seed growth chamber (COTS products) that plugged into the NanoRacks-NanoLab platform inside the Japanese JEM/Kibo module onboard the ISS. An internal camera provided snapshots of the stages of growth during the experiment, which crew members then downlinked to the school as data for analysis. The experiment remained in orbit for 53 days, a total of 3005 photos were downloaded. The 2U NanoLab was returned to Earth on a Soyuz vehicle on March 16, 2011. An analysis of the experiment revealed that all system performed as designed. 94) 95)
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).