AFRL partners with NASA to test materials in space

Wright-Patterson-based lab pursues space research with new experiments

The Air Force Research Laboratory may be headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but it increasingly finds its work in outer space.

The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate, with Georgia Tech Research Institute, NASA and DuPont de Nemours, Inc., has placed an experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) to test how certain materials fare in “space weather” — exposure to space, the lab said Thursday.

A SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft delivered the experiment named “16 Materials International Space Station Experiment,” or MISSE-16, to the ISS last month, AFRL said.

It consists of materials never before tested in space. It was installed on an ISS platform during a recent extravehicular activity, where it will collect data for the next six months before returning to earth in early 2023 for analysis.

AFRL and Georgia Tech “will then study the effects of space weather exposure on the collection of heritage and novel spacecraft materials,” said Ryan Hoffmann, the AFRL mission manager.

The project was conceived by AFRL, Georgia Tech and NASA researchers.

Also this week, AFRL released results from another orbital experiment.

This AFRL experiment tested the most recent version of the Oscillating Heat Pipes, or OHPs, and the results of the more than 6,600 hours of on-orbit testing are being made available to the public.

“We now have a treasure trove of data,” said Jon Allison, thermal thrust lead for the Spacecraft Component Technology Branch of the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate. “Our results include 2.2 million data points that will increase confidence in the use of OHPs, and facilitate the continuing advancement of the technology.”

OHPs are part of a spacecraft thermal control system.

“Quality spacecraft thermal control is important to ensure the functionality, reliability, and cost-achievability of space systems,” Allison said.

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