UCCS, Pikes Peak State College experiment to fly on the International Space Station

Student researchers Noah Grebe and Luke Davis from UCCS and Blake MacDonald from Pikes Peak State College working on their flight experiment, “Calcium Sulfate Crystal Growth in Microgravity”

A team of three students from UCCS and Pikes Peak State College (PPSC) have been selected to fly an experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) in fall 2024. UCCS Aerospace Engineering sophomore Luke Davis, Mechanical Engineering Junior Noah Grebe, and PPSC Engineering freshman Blake MacDonald wrote a proposal to fly the experiment in fall 2023. They were notified in December that their experiment titled “Calcium Sulfate Crystal Growth in Microgravity” was selected from among ten proposals from UCCS and PPSC involving 45 students. The Colorado Springs team is one of 37 communities from around the world selected to participate in the program.

The program is the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) who work closely with Nanoracks, LLC through their Space Act Agreement with NASA to help open up commercial access to the ISS. The experiment will be part of the Mission 18 payload that will be placed atop a Falcon 9 Dragon rocket. The rocket will launch from historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the pad from which all Apollo missions to the Moon launched. The experiment will be transported to the ISS, orbiting 250 miles above Earth’s surface and traveling at 4.5 miles per second, where it will be operated by astronauts for 2 – 4 weeks.

The selected experiment will investigate microgravity’s effects on the formation of inorganic crystalline structural growth, and use, within a controlled setting. Calcium sulfate crystals are commonly used in a wide range of projects from building materials to food additives and fertilizers. Larger and more pure instances of this substance created in microgravity will prove useful in future space exploration missions as a high-quality fertilizer that can be produced on orbit. If larger, more pure calcium sulfate crystal can be shown to grow in microgravity, this substance can be used more effectively in many applications in space missions and be produced on orbit as required, leading to a significant impact on future space missions. The selected team will go through the normal ISS flight experiment steps, including a flight readiness review.

The next step for the team is to conduct preliminary testing of the proposed experiment on Earth to solidify detailed procedures for the astronauts to follow. After that, the team is required to submit a Final Flight Safety Review Form. The first available launch, based on NASA Toxicology and Flight Safety Review requirements for experiment detail submissions is SpaceX CRS-31. SpX-31 is currently targeted for launch on 17 September 2024. The team is invited and planning on attending the launch to see their experiment first-hand launching into space.

In addition to the PPSC and UCCS involvement, the program will engage K-12 students in the local community to design a mission patch for the flight. Currently we have several organizations who intend to compete, but we welcome more. If you would like more information on either the mission flight experiment or the mission patch contest, please contact Lynnane George at [email protected] or McKenna Lovejoy at [email protected].

About the Student Space Flight Experiments Program

The Student Space Flight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education Internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with Nanoracks, LLC, which is working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.