With the official SpaceX launch planned for Friday March 1 at 10:10am, the NASA BRIC team has scheduled our pre-launch meetings and integration. While still in Madison, Simon participated in a “readiness review” meeting with NASA on Friday, going through the checklist of everything that will need to occur before flight. We have the “green light” to go ahead with our BRIC experiment. We also have a good idea of how timing of events this week will occur.
The three members of our Gilroy Lab team (Sarah, Simon, and Won-Gyu) arrived in Florida Sunday night and moved into a condo in Cocoa Beach, which will be our home for at least a week. Bright and early Monday morning we went to the badging station at Kennedy Space Center to get our temporary passes onto the base. After that, we were able to cross the security checkpoint and enter the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF).
Last year for our initial tests at KSC (the SVT and PVT), our lab was located at the Space Life Science (SLS) lab. However, it made more sense to consolidate all of the NASA research into the SSPF building. The SSPF has extra space now that the space station is built, and many rooms have been repurposed in to labs and offices. We were concerned that the move would cause some difficulty for our flight integration, but so far the new space is as good if not better as the SLS lab.
Our lab suite is split in two with the other half in use by a group of Canadian researchers who will send up an experiment to study microflow on the ISS. When we arrived at our lab Monday morning, we ventured across the dividing line. Strangely, the Canadian half is really very much like our American side, just with a different accent. In fact the corridor where our lab is has many other labs on it, each with a research team working hard on setting up for either our flight or the next SpaceX launch in September. This is a pretty exciting place to be at the moment!
Our office in the SSPF is upstairs in a large partitioned room. The BRIC-17 teams are on one side, with three desks for UW-Madison and another three for the University of Florida team. In the same room are other groups flying experiments on SpaceX2, including the microfluidics group from Canada and the Japanese space agency JAXA team lead by Sachiko Yano who will be flying stem cells.
Tonight (Tuesday Feb 26) we have a pre-integration meeting with the NASA folks who will be packing our experiment into the space hardware (the petri dish fixation unit, PDFU). The meeting is scheduled for 10:30pm because integration of BRIC-17 science into the PDFU will occur from 1am to 3am. We have been advised to bring plenty of food, because neither the cafes in the SSPF nor any nearby restaurants will be open.
Following integration, our BRICs will be stored in the refrigerator. Our seeds will be on nutrient gel, so it will be important that they be kept cool to prevent germination until their arrival in microgravity. Then, on Wednesday afternoon the loaded BRICs will be placed into a cold bag and moved to the SpaceX loading area. They should be on board the SpaceX Dragon capsule on Thursday in time for the Friday morning launch. The Dragon will dock with the space station on Saturday March 2, and our experiment will run from March 2 until the astronaut adds the RNAlater fixative to the samples on March 9 at 7:40pm. At 8pm the following day, the astronaut will place our BRICs into the freezer (MELFI) until landing back on Earth on March 25. The BRICs will be in the freezer at KSC until we can return to de-integrate and retrieve our samples in early April.
The ground control will be offset by 2 days, so that KSC can get the on-board conditions (temperature) in order to program the growth chamber (the Orbital Environmental Simulator, OES) to mimic the space station conditions. Thus the schedule for set-up and running the ground control will be identical to the flown experiment, except everything will occur 2 days later. So we will have another all-nighter starting Thursday night to finish ground control science integration early Friday morning. We should be done in time to go watch the launch at 10:10am.
SpaceX and NASA have also established a “scrub schedule.” That is, if SpaceX does not launch on March 1 10:10am for some reason, then next launch attempt will be just slightly less than 24hr later (i.e. March 2 9:47am; if that second attempt is scrubbed then the next try will be March 3 9:24am, etc.). Our experiment is good for 2 scrubs; if two scrubs occur our ground control becomes our flight BRICs. Therefore, we will need to re-do our setup every other day until launch. Let’s hope all goes well and SpaceX launches on schedule March 1!