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ESC Empowers Part 3: Payloads & Space Life Sciences

Video courtesy of AmericaSpace

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — David Reed is a soft-spoken man with a passion for science. This much became obvious while AmericaSpace spoke with him at the Space Life Sciences Lab (SLSL) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center—where Reed is the payload engineering lead for the Engineering Services Contract (ESC)—located in Florida. Reed has worked at Kennedy for about 16 years and is currently helping to develop scientific payloads that journey to the International Space Station.

Reed spoke at length about the assistance that the ESC contributed to the space shuttle program, as well as what projects are currently underway to help crews stationed on the International Space Station (ISS) to accomplish their complex and varied missions.

Looking nothing so much as like a prop out of the television series “Star Trek,” this device is actually a container which houses Petri dishes, allowing them to be transported into space. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

One of the first things that Reed covered was what was known as a “Standard Middeck Locker.” Approximately 40 of these non-descript aluminum boxes were carried in the space shuttle’s middeck when the orbiters were in service. They were utilized primarily as storage bins for the astronauts.

The ESC repurposed these bins to contain experiments. As with anything that is prepared to fly into space, however, weight is a crucial element that has to be considered.

“Each of these containers have a volume and weight limit—put simply, they cannot weigh more than 70 pounds,” Reed said.

This was just one of the many projects that Reed detailed as being part of the ESC’s efforts (to view more, watch the video above). During our time with him, it became clear that preconceptions about what type of work is conducted at KSC were in need of correcting.

When most people think of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, or KSC, they think of rockets launching into space. However, according to Reed, this is only the tip of the space flight iceberg when it comes to what Kennedy provides.

“Most folks don’t realize that we have actually been developing and building payloads for a variety of spacecraft since 1982,” Reed said when asked about what type of work the ESC conducted at KSC.

Before that time, another contractor managed payloads. ESC’s current responsibility in this specific area revolves around relatively small payloads, primarily from NASA.

In this image are just a few of the tools, payloads, and experiments that the Engineering Services Contract develops for NASA. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

As with any good company, however, the firm responsible for the ESC contract, QinetiQ North America (QinetiQ-NA), is interested in providing these services to other organizations besides NASA. With the rapid growth of the private space sector, there is the possibility that QinetiQ-NA could find itself as a critical component of the NewSpace movement.

With the space shuttle program over, NASA is now planning on sending astronauts to destinations beyond the orbit of Earth. The technologies and systems that are being developed at the Space Life Sciences Lab, under the auspices of the ESC, could prove vital to this new endeavor. Photo Credit: NASA

The SLSL was built in 2003, and it covers about 109,000 square feet. Roughly one-third of the facility is dedicated to laboratories or for other technical uses. The structure has 25 labs with a wide range of modern support equipment that includes controlled environmental and vacuum test chambers, as well as other instruments crucial to testing payloads destined to travel into the black.

NASA partnered with Space Florida, the state organization tasked with maintaining Florida’s aerospace efforts, to develop the land on which the Space Life Sciences Lab resides. It is part of a long-term effort to retain high-tech jobs in the region.

The ESC contract also supports scientific research at the SLSL, which encompasses advanced life support for future space missions. This entails analysis, testing, and maturation of technologies for air revitalization, water recovery, food production, and solid waste management for Life Support and Habitation Systems (LSHS).

That is not all. ESC is also researching Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) and Next Generation Life Support—elements needed to conduct long-term deep space exploration missions by crews.

NASA is working to hand over responsibility of providing access to low-Earth-orbit destinations—primarily the space station—to several private companies while the space agency attempts to send astronauts to deep space objectives, such as the Moon, asteroids, and, possibly one day, Mars. In this, the work that is being done under the auspices of the ESC contract could prove vital.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the ongoing ESC series.

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