Once selected, and the appropriate contracts placed, the lead time for the development of an MSL experiment is expected to be 18–24 months. This time will be devoted to the design, construction, and qualification of a safe space experiment, and to the establishment of appropriate furnace processing parameters. In principle, the following split of responsibilities will be observed for the funding of MSL experiment hardware: ESA:
The International Space Station will be serviced every three months, and together with the subsequent operational period, this set of operations is called an increment. The interval between uploading of new experiment cartridges to MSL, and the return of the processed ones to ground, will consequently be (at least) three months. It is intended to run MSL experiment campaigns for the different furnace inserts. Several furnace inserts may be used within one increment, supporting different fields of research.
The execution of the space experiment itself starts with the astronaut loading the experiment cartridge into MSL. After evacuation of the process chamber, an Experiment Sequence is initiated; it consists of a number of process steps with pre-defined parameters (for instance heat-up, directional melting, homogenisation, pulling/directional solidification, quenching and cool-down). The transition from one step to another can either be time- or event-controlled. As a baseline, the Experiment Sequence is executed automatically from beginning to end, but MSL also provides the possibility to adjust process parameters and step sequences in real-time, through “telescience,” both from the ground and by the crew. Such actions, though, have to be verified as being safe before their execution. After processing, the cartridge is removed from the facility and stowed until it can be transported back to earth.