Cygnus to Carry Variety of Life & Physical Science Investigations to Space Station

The U.S. Cygnus space freighter is pictured as the Canadarm2 robotic arm, guided by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir with fellow Flight Engineer Christina Koch as her back up, reaches out to grapple the 12th resupply ship from Northrop Grumman on November 4, 2019. (Credits: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., September 25, 2020 (CASIS PR) – More than 20 payloads sponsored by the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory are loaded onto Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, scheduled to launch to the orbiting laboratory no earlier than September 29 at 10:26 p.m. ET.

The launch, which will take place from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, represents Northrop Grumman’s 14th commercial resupply services (CRS) mission to the space station, contracted through NASA. This mission will deliver a multitude of research experiments to be conducted by ISS crew members over the coming months, including several physical and life science investigations. 

Over the years, fundamental and applied life science research has been integral to the mission of the ISS National Lab, as this research in space has the capacity to improve our understanding of disease on Earth and aid in improving the safety and effectiveness of therapeutics. On this mission, the ISS National Lab will sponsor multiple life science investigations that aim to improve the quality of life on Earth through space-based research.

  • GlaxoSmithKline, a worldwide leader in drug development, will evaluate how microgravity affects protein folding and aggregation to better understand how the company can create safer and longer-lasting biopharmaceuticals for patients on Earth. This project is supported by commercial Implementation Partner Lamont Aerospace.
  • Innovative startup company Kernal Biologics will test candidate messenger RNA molecules in the absence of gravity to identify which molecules are best able to aid in the identification of cancerous human cells among healthy ones. These results may help in the development of new medications to treat leukemia. This project, supported by commercial Implementation Partner BioServe Space Technologies, received funding from Boeing and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), manager of the ISS National Lab, through the MassChallenge startup accelerator program.
  • Rhodium Scientific will support multiple life science investigations on this mission. One project, in collaboration with Cornell University and multiple biotech companies, seeks to determine how the space environment affects fungal-microbial dynamics impacting soil physical structure and stability to improve agricultural health and food production in space and on Earth. Another project, in collaboration with Clemson University with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, aims to determine whether microgravity exposure can provide advantages in bioengineered systems for the production of beneficial chemical products—with a focus on biomanufacturing biodegradable, 3D printer-compatible polyhydroxyalkonoates (PHAs), a material that may one day replace plastic packaging. A third project, in collaboration with iButtonLink, aims to validate the Rhodium Science TempLog-20iB, a miniature flight-certified device providing industry-standard temperature monitoring that will be made available to the life science community for future flights.

This launch also includes several physical science investigations that will leverage the unique microgravity environment to further fundamental discovery. Two projects funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF)—which has allocated millions of research dollars toward physical science and tissue engineering research in collaboration with the ISS National Lab—seek to use the orbiting laboratory for the study of transport phenomena. Both of these NSF-funded investigations are supported by commercial Implementation Partner Zin Technologies.

  • The University of Maryland experiment will observe spherical flames in space to improve understanding of the physics of cool diffusion flames, which burn at temperatures below 400 degrees Celsius and were first observed on the space station in 2012. For this project, the research team will observe quasi-steady spherical flames on porous burners in microgravity. Results could have impacts on combustion engine efficiency that help reduce emissions on Earth.
  • Cornell University experiment will study the motion of liquid drops attached to a vibrating surface on the ISS to better understand inertial spreading—which is vital to many physical processes on Earth including applications in manufacturing, agricultural, medical, and other industries. Studying the precise motion of liquid droplets across a surface is complicated by gravity on Earth because the movement happens quickly and at a small scale. In microgravity, droplet size is increased and their movement is slower, making measurements of motion easier to obtain.

“The diversity of science on Northrop Grumman CRS-14 is a testament to the wide-ranging capabilities and facilities available on our laboratory in low Earth orbit,” said Ken Shields, CASIS chief operating officer. “The research launching on this mission will provide important scientific and technological insight that brings value to our nation.”

To learn about all of the research and technology development payloads sponsored by the ISS National Lab that are launching on Northrop Grumman CRS-14, please visit our mission overview.

About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory

In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Lab manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space is the non-profit responsible for management of the ISS National Lab.