Space leaders meet to set a course for research in orbit

About 900 members of the space community — including astronauts, government officials, researchers and industry professionals — are converging on Seattle this week for the International Space Station Research and Development Conference.

But this week’s ISSRDC event is about more than just the ISS.

The 12th annual conference, which is being held in the Pacific Northwest for the first time, comes as NASA and its commercial partners are making plans for privately operated outposts that will take the place of the ISS when it’s brought down from orbit. That fiery retirement party is currently set for the 2030-2031 time frame..

“We’re at that critical juncture,” said Patrick O’Neill, marketing and communications manager for the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS. The center manages the activities that the ISS takes on in its role as a national laboratory, and is the organizer of the ISSRDC.

For now, the ISS is one of only two space stations in low Earth orbit, or LEO. (The other one is China’s Tiangong space station.) But the next seven years are likely to see the launch of multiple commercial LEO destinations, which have come to be known as CLDs in NASA’s three-letter-acronym parlance. One of those CLDs could well be Orbital Reef, which is currently under development by a consortium that includes Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

“This conference is a great opportunity for us to learn about future avenues of inquiry that could be advantageous for other government agencies, and ways for us to build on the science that’s been done previously, so that we can segue toward those CLDs,” O’Neill told me.


Startups win $500,000 for zero-gravity tech

The International Space Station serves as an orbiting laboratory. (NASA Photo)

The Boeing Co. and a nonprofit group called the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, have teamed up for the fourth year in a row to provide financial support for orbital entrepreneurship through the MassChallenge startup accelerator program.

This year’s three winning projects will split $500,000 in grants for experiments designed to be done aboard the International Space Station in microgravity, popularly known as zero gravity.

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Space station patch goes all in on Star Wars

The latest mission patch for research payloads intended for the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory has a Star Wars theme. (CASIS / Lucasfilm Graphic)

Factual and fictional worlds collide in the latest mission patch associated with the International Space Station’s role as a U.S. national laboratory.

Virtually every element on the patch ties in to the Star Wars saga, including the droids BB-8, K-2SO and Chopper, as well as the Death Star and a patch border shaped like the Millennium Falcon.

The only nod to real-life space exploration is an outline of the International Space Station itself.

The patch, which represents this year’s research payloads for the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, was unveiled today by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, which oversees the space research that’s handled through the national laboratory system.

CASIS worked closely with Lucasfilm, the keeper of the Star Wars flame, which is gearing up to release “Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi” in December.

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