SpaceX CRS-23 is an International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission – the 23rd commercial launch of the Dragon capsule as part of the space station cargo contract between NASA and SpaceX. The resupply capsule is scheduled to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Merrit Island off the coast of Florida at 09:37 Central European Summer Time (CEST; 03:37 EDT) on 28 August 2021. The Launch Complex was originally built for the launches of NASA's Saturn V heavy-lift launch vehicle of the Apollo programme in the 1960s. It is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on 29 August, 15:30 CEST (09:30 EDT).
"This supply mission is particularly important for us because eight German experiments are flying to the ISS on SpaceX-CRS 23, which Matthias Maurer will work with during his mission," explains Volker Schmid, ISS Specialist Group Leader and Head of the Cosmic Kiss Mission at the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn. "On board are five scientific experiments from the areas of medicine, materials science and physics as well as three experiments from young scientists and school projects."
Here is an overview of the SpaceX CRS 23 experiments provided by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR):
Thermo Mini – monitoring core body temperature
The Thermo-Mini system enables researchers to continuously monitor the core body temperature of astronauts. Spending time and conducting activities in space lead to significant increases in core body temperature. The exact causes of this are still unknown. This increase in core body temperature poses a potential threat. Thermo-Mini consists of sensors and a headband that can be easily worn and continuously monitors core body temperature. During the 36th DLR parabolic flight campaign in June 2021, the Thermo-Mini model was tested in microgravity. The main research partner for Thermo-Mini is Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Industrial partners are KORA GmbH and Dräger GmbH, and the German Space Agency at DLR is providing the hardware.
Retinal Diagnostics – identifying changes to optic nerves
Among the technology tests Matthias Maurer will conduct during his mission on the ISS is the technology transfer project 'Retinal Diagnostics'. The project involves developing mobile, AI-supported diagnostics for the ocular health of astronauts based on research conducted at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. Changes to the optic nerves are one of the most serious impairments that can occur due to time spent in microgravity. These diagnostic examinations are also important for neurological emergency medicine on Earth. During the mission on the ISS, the optic nerve head will be measured for diagnostic and preventive purposes with the help of images acquired with a very small, lightweight camera. This will allow changes to be tracked and the success of countermeasures to be determined. In future, the device should be able to determine automatically whether changes are taking place in the eye with the help of artificial intelligence. Solving this problem is of crucial importance for future missions to the Moon and Mars. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, DLR Technology Marketing and the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne are involved.
MetabolicSpace – analysis of the gases of human respiration indicates performance
MetabolicSpace is an industry-motivated experiment with the aim of developing a personal, smart system for analysing the gases of human respiration that can be worn on the body without restricting mobility. It should be easy to use, automatically evaluate data and be capable of assessing physical performance. A special cardiovascular stress profile is being developed for this project that does not require astronauts to exercise at their stress limit.
Existing systems consist of a mask system that is attached to the head or to a frame. The gases are extracted via hoses to an external unit and analysed there using various sensors. The hoses between the mask and the external unit do not allow free movement during exercise and so the performance and behaviour of the astronaut are distorted. Methods for automatic data evaluation with a self-diagnosis function and user-friendly display, especially for non-medical exercise, are not yet available on the market.
The findings of this project can also be used by competitive athletes. Partners are the Institute of Aerospace Engineering at the Technical University of Dresden and CORTEX Biophysik GmbH, Leipzig.
Touching Surfaces – testing antimicrobial surfaces
Long-term stays of astronauts on a space station lead to microflora developing from the microorganisms they brought with them. This can impact the health of the astronauts – especially if the composition of the microflora changes under the conditions of spaceflight. In addition, it has been shown that biofilms that develop can lead to material damage. In the 'Touching Surfaces' project, new types of surfaces will be investigated and tested for their antimicrobial efficacy in space. These 'biocidal' surfaces can significantly support future hygiene measures for cabins in space and on Earth. These new surfaces can be used in all areas where antibacterial hygiene is important. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Saarland University, University College London and Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences are involved in the project.
BIOFILMS – understanding the formation of bacterial biofilms
In the BIOFILMS experiment, new types of antimicrobial metal surfaces are being tested on the ISS to study the formation of bacterial biofilms. Laser technology was used to create nanostructures on various surfaces that prevent bacteria from settling on them. The aim of the experiment is to analyse the interaction between the different surfaces and bacteria/biofilms in space. The overall goal is to mitigate microorganism contamination in space and prevent damage to materials. The experiment will serve to improve our fundamental understanding of the formation of biofilms and may also play a role in reducing germ contamination on Earth, for example in hospitals or in industry.
Partners are the German Space Agency at DLR, the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Saarland University and ESA.
'Space Seeds II – monitoring space-grown plants' – a national primary school initiative
In the interactive 'Space Seeds II' initiative, primary school children will conduct research with wildflower seeds that will fly to the ISS on SpaceX CRS-23 and return to Earth after the Cosmic Kiss mission. How well will the seeds survive the journey into space? A school competition will be held in 2022/2023 school year to find out. Primary school children aged eight to ten can participate. In addition to accompanying educational material, the classes will receive the 'space seeds' that return from space and comparative seeds for planting and observation. In this way, children will get a taste of scientific research and simultaneously be made aware of the topics of biodiversity and the protection of our unique planet. The partners involved are the German Space Agency at DLR, Rieger-Hofmann GmbH and the BIOTESC at the University of Lucerne (Switzerland).
To space and back – more than 1000 children to orbit Earth 'on board' the ISS
'Hand in Hand around the World' was the title of a major campaign launched by DLR in autumn 2020. Despite the difficult conditions in schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1000 primary school children aged eight and above painted self-portraits for the campaign. All the children had to paint themselves shaking hands in a row so that the 30 winning pictures, when combined on a 10-metre-long textile strip, would form a human chain. This textile strip will now fly to the ISS on board SpaceX CRS-23. All the other children who took part are winners as well: their pictures will also travel to the ISS – stored in digital form on a USB drive. The partners are the DLR Braunschweig site's precision mechanic training programme and DLR_School_Lab.
Dzhanibekov experiment – fascinating rotation in microgravity
This experiment will examine an astonishing effect first demonstrated in space by the cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov in 1985. To do so, it will use various figures created using Lego Duplo bricks. The effect involves the strange rotational behaviour of an object with three rotational axes. While rotating, the seemingly stable rotation suddenly alternates with a rapid flipping and reversing of the rotation around the axis. The experiment aims to inspire young people about the often surprising world of physics. Partners are the Wilhelm Löhe School in Nuremberg, the DLR Institute for Material Physics in Space and ESA Education.
More experiments for the Cosmic Kiss mission will be brought to the ISS in November with the launch of Matthias Maurer, as well as with the subsequent SpaceX CRS-24 resupply mission, which is expected to launch in December 2021.