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ISS: three new experimental facilities

Space Shuttle Discovery carries Airbus Defence and Space-built research facilities into space

Tuesday 6 April marked another successful launch of the space shuttle Discovery. At 12:21 CEST (06:21 local time), Mission STS-131 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida (USA), and set course for the International Space Station (ISS). The shuttle is carrying three new experimental facilities developed under the industrial leadership of Airbus Defence and Space.

The Solidification and Quench Furnace (SQF) destined for the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) and the CCF facility for fluid experiments will allow the ISS crew members to further extend the scope of their scientific work; in particular, these resources will enable them to investigate fundamental issues associated with the production of new alloys and semiconductors, as well as fresh development options for fuel tanks, including for satellites.

To facilitate the cold storage of research samples, Discovery is also transporting a third Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer – dubbed MELFI – to the ISS. MELFI-1 has been on board the ISS since 2006, while MELFI-2 was launched in 2009.

The new equipment is stowed in the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo, which the astronauts will unload on the fifth and sixth days of their mission.

The Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) The MSL facility was developed and built on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) by a consortium led by Airbus Defence and Space. The MSL allows the astronauts to study the behaviour of various materials such as metal, glass, crystal and ceramics under space conditions. They are able to melt and solidify samples in different furnace inserts under precisely controlled conditions, the primary aim of the research being to expedite industrial scale production of materials with improved characteristics and/or lower manufacturing costs back on Earth. The new Solidification and Quench Furnace (SQF) will now equip the MSL with a second melting unit which, thanks to its ability to cool experimental samples extremely rapidly, will offer the possibility of ‘fast-freezing’ the solidification process for subsequent study back on Earth.

CCF – Liquids in thin tubes The Capillary Channel Flow (CCF) experimental facility was developed on behalf of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Its aim is to study the flow characteristics of fluids in open capillary tubes in zero gravity conditions, with a view to optimising flow behaviour in fuel tanks.

MELFIReally cool – The Minus Eighty (Degrees Celsius) Laboratory Freezer (MELFI) ESA commissioned Airbus Defence and Space to develop and build three Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezers for the ISS (MELFI). The first was flown to the space station on the STS-121 mission in July 2006; the second followed in 2009. The system freezes and preserves biological and medical samples of human, animal and plant origin for the scientific community so they can be analysed on their return to Earth.