SpaceX CRS-17 is scheduled to launch hundreds of pounds of science materials to the international Space Station no earlier than Fri. May 3, 2019. This story highlights the Hermes Facility, one of the projects along for the ride.
researchers on Earth recently gained a powerful new way to remotely conduct
experiments aboard the International Space Station. The device, called the Hermes Facility, is an experiment station that can
communicate with scientists on the ground and give them the ability to control
their studies almost as if they were in space themselves. Hermes was carried to
the space station aboard the SpaceX CRS-17 ferry flight.
Hermes is the
creation of Dr. Kristen John, a researcher with the Astromaterials
Research and Exploration Science (ARES) division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). John and
her research team developed Hermes as a way to study how samples of simulated
asteroid particles behave in microgravity and the vacuum of space.
The material John is studying with Hermes is called asteroid regolith. The term
is used for the layer of dusty, fragmented debris covering asteroids and moons
created by impacts from meteorites and other forces on their surfaces.
“We need to
study this material to understand how it’s going to affect our spacecraft that interact
with the surface of asteroids, or the joints of spacesuits worn by astronauts
one day exploring them,” John said.
Studying regolith also helps scientists understand the underpinning of how asteroids,
moons and planets, such as our Earth, developed.
Messages from Space
John and her team designed
Hermes to connect to the station’s existing systems – including communications
– so that it could be completely monitored and controlled from the ground.
Hermes is also made to be easily adapted to many types of experiments.
“We named it
for the Greek messenger god, Hermes, because we’ve designed a system that can
deliver research data and experiments back forth between space and scientists,”
roughly the size of a large desktop computer and the experiments themselves are
housed inside a removable carrier, called a cassette, which slides into Hermes.
assisted in designing and building Hermes by a team consisting of JSC, the University
of Central Florida and researchers and students affiliated with Texas A&M
University through a partnership with Texas Space, Technology, Applications and
The JSC team
included Kenton Fisher, an ARES engineer who led the development of Hermes’ vacuum
system, and project manager Veronica Saucedo with the Project Management and
Integration Office of the Engineering Directorate.
no greater satisfaction than seeing this project through from concept to
delivery,” Saucedo said. “I’m excited to see how the capability of this
game-changing facility impacts asteroid, planetary science and exploration
The space station crew
will install Hermes into an EXPRESS rack aboard the lab.
“After that, the crew will flip a few switches, and we’ll basically take over
from there,” John said.
experiments for Cassette-1 are housed inside four clear, 10-inch plastic tubes
containing materials meant to simulate regolith. Three of the tubes hold different-sized
particles of silica glass. The fourth tube has a meteorite simulant which is a blend
of variously sized particles, formulated especially for the experiment by Professor
Addie Dove and students from the University of Central Florida.
“This experiment gave our students a chance to work on
hardware that will actually fly on the ISS,” Dove said. “They had to understand
the experiment design and fabrication cycle, how to meet specifications and
produce a quality product. This is much different than what they have to do in
classes and provides valuable experience.”
Over the coming
months, John and her team will be watching to see how the regolith particles
behave in response to long duration exposure to microgravity, and to changes in
pressure, temperature, shocks from impacts and other forces. Once the regolith
experiments inside Cassette-1 are complete, it will be removed from Hermes,
returned to Earth and replaced with a new cassette of different experiments.
International Space Station Program Science Office
Johnson Space Center