FAQ

Here’s a collection of questions we have received from potential customers. If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for, contact Mike Johnson with your customer questions.

NanoRacks has permanently installed on the U.S. National Laboratory aboard the International Space Station two research platforms. Each of the platforms holds up to 16 NanoRacks payloads in the CubeSat form factor. We call the payloads NanoLabs. Each payload is 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches.

Use of a standard form factor lowers the cost and speeds up the development of the research project. There is no reason to have unique research hardware, what should be unique is the research itself. What’s more, the design of our Platforms allows for an easy “plug and play” interface, in which every project on the Platform plugs into the space station power and communications system.

A payload is flown and installed on the space station for up to 30 days. Power and daily data downloads are through the existing station communication system. It is the ultimate plug and play.

The NanoRacks Platform standardizes what has been until now custom designed hardware: the research platform and payload hardware. By providing a set standard the barrier to entry for space station research is lowered. In addition, recent advances in miniaturization means that real science can take place in far smaller containers–hence the value of the NanoLab.

We are able to book on any cargo ship to the space station. That means Japanese, American, Russian or French. You don’t have to worry about the details of the uphill ride. We take care of that.

We have had customers from high schools to researchers fly in under a year.

Our business model is like that of a no-frills airline. We have two basic U.S. prices, one for educational clients and one for commercial. We charge by the 1U–a 4 inch by 4 inch by 4 inch educational payload (1U) can be as low as $30,000. A 2U is twice that ($60,000). A 2U by 1U is three times that ($90,000). Commercial payloads start at $60,000 per 1U. We charge more for non-US payloads–we can discuss these parameters with you if this is your situation.

The basic price includes:

  • Paperwork required for space transportation
  • Handling of the safety review
  • The space transportation to the space station
  • Insertion of the payload into the NanoRacks Platform
  • Power
  • Data return

In short, the basics for the experiment.

The basic price does not include:

  • More than two hours of consulting on payload development per 1U. After two hours of consulting, NanoRacks will charge for this service.
  • There is a charge for return of physical data, if applicable.
  • Missions longer than 30 days
  • Certain demands on our Mission Control
  • Insurance
  • And any additional custom requests for the payload
No! At NanoRacks we believe strongly that one path for space research should be any project that a customer believes in strongly enough to pay the costs (and it must of course pass the NASA safety review). We believe that breakthroughs in research, any research, sometimes involves hunches, accidents, trial and error, and that the peer review is of course an accepted system for selection, but so too the commercial path.

All sorts of testing of materials and hardware in the space environment such as environmental and radiation testing, pharmaceutical and medical research. A project can be more than 1U or one CubeSat in size. It can be 4U or 8U or even 4U long with 2U perpendicular, to allow for example for a video camera to observe what is happening in the 4U section. A lot can be done in a small space. For more information, see our documents section which has a report entitled “How to Build a Great NanoRacks Payload.”

To begin, take a look the Resources section where we have several documents that will give you some good pointers.

No. Our team handles the interface with NASA from start to finish. You work solely with us.

A CubeSat form factor payload can be passive, meaning it does not require power. But for return of data, it may have to be plugged into our Platform. Here we do offer here research opportunities not using the CubeSat form factor. We flew on STS-134 for example, a 2U hardware that allows researchers to take individual “wells” for materials research at a lower cost. This is a program we expect to continue in the post-shuttle era and we can discuss this with you.

We are excited that a vendor community is now emerging. Some examples: Our friends at Valley Christian are preparing a curriculum for student payloads. Our educational partner NCESSE has a national STEM program underway for high school students. Ardulab offers turnkey payloads at low prices. Our belief is that, like the software and computer communities, people will come forward with imaginative ideas for use of the NanoRacks Platforms and help make space research as low-cost and hassle-free as possible.

We are now working on more sophisticated (powerful) research Platforms, better delivery of the data, dedicated on-orbit research hardware for use by our customers (such as a microscope). We can discuss this in detail with you.

And above all, we are open to ideas to figure out together how to utilize the unique environment of space for all sorts of reasons.

We often get asked: How does the procedure work? –here is a quick snapshot:

The customer approaches us with their research concept. NanoRacks determines with the potential customer whether or not they are a good fit for a NanoRacks facility or whether it would be a custom project. This determination affects the time and hence cost of a project. We operate like a budget airline! If it fits our form factors and facilities, the cost is far less than a custom project. During this phase we work out a timeline, including a probable launch for their experiment. Then if all parties are fine, we develop a contract.

The contract is for a set price and lists all the tasks NanoRacks will perform. This includes manifesting on the launch vehicle, the transportation to the space station, all paperwork required by the appropriate space agencies (sometimes more than NASA), the safety, payload integration, and basic mission ops once the payload is in space and on the ISS. In short, we are a one stop interface for your project. You can concentrate on the payload itself.

More specifically:

NanoRacks works with the NASA Payload Office to get their experiment on the manifest for launch.

At the same time, we begin putting together the Safety Data Package for their experiment.

This will be reviewed by the NASA Payload Safety Data Panel up to four times before getting it final approval. NanoRacks tries to work in concert with the NASA Safety team to avoid any major issues during this process.

NanoRacks also works with the Payload Operations team at Marshall Spaceflight Center to develop the crew procedures for the experiment should the crew need to be involved on orbit. MSFC also helps us get the experiment activity on the schedule for the International Space Station.

NanoRacks will also film a five minute training video to give the crew an overview of how to run the experiment. This video will include an introduction by the customer so that they can tell the crew the purpose and objective of their experiment.

We can also work on payload development or recommend another firm to help you if needed. If you are doing the payload development, great.

NanoRacks coordinates any necessary tests with the customers and NASA, and schedules the experiment delivery around this schedule. NanoRacks then packs the payload and ships it to the launch provider.

Once the experiment is on orbit, NanoRacks monitors the crew activities from the NanoRacks Control Center as they happen. The NanoRacks Control Center will download any downlinked data files on a regular basis (as per ISS downlink schedule), and will transfer those files to the customer that day.

If the experiment is returned to Earth from the ISS, we have folks standing by. On average, with a payload return from Soyuz, we receive the package from space within 24 hours of touchdown! It is then immediately forwarded to the customer.

This is a brief snapshot of how we handle your space needs.
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Yes. 2U sized CubeSats and NanoLabs can be launched from the space station via NanoRacks SmallSat Deployment Program. We currently cater for up to 4U size.

Sure, there are lots of programs you may be interested in:

1. Searching for micrometeorite impact evidence on EVA Space Suits. Use the reflective microscope. This is a real on-going NASA investigation.

2. Use of the reflective microscope on hardware that was sitting outside in the outer space environment. Look for atomic oxygen degradation and micrometeorite impacts. What does this tell us about how friendly or dangerous is the space environment?

3. Examination of unknown biological samples via on-board transmission microscope. Students would have to identify the sample. What is it? Mold or bacteria?

4. We can take sugar/salt based drink or sugar water, place a drop on a microscope side, evaporate the water and look under the microscope for larger sugar/salt crystals.

5. We have fluids in a container on the space station. The astronauts could spin the containers, the natural center of rotation would be found (i.e. center of gravity) and the students can do the same on the earth on an air table and see if there is a difference.

6. Ham radio. We could arrange for the students to use a ham radio to speak to an astronaut.

7. Radiation scintillation experiment. Record an hour’s worth of video with the camera lens cap on the video camera and look for image detector hits by radiation particles.

8. Rotating Bodies in Microgravity. The students can have a crewmember spin a variety of common objects available on the ISS including solid bodies and liquid filled bottles to see moment of inertia effects.

9. Film your area of the world from the station and talk about why it looks as it does.

10. Lightweight (gossamer) space structures made of paper. Crew will construct the structures per student’s instructions and see how the structures behave while suspended in microgravity.

11. Look at the capillary holding forces of water in a microplate well. How does the water differ if it does differ from the same action on the earth with gravity? We are working on the answer but need to know to begin doing interesting biological work on the space station with the microplate reader. So the students would be first to know the answer to the question. This research began when the Japanese HTV-3 flew in late summer 2012.

For more information contact our team.