Officials from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) have partnered with NASA to conduct materials tests aboard the International Space Station.

The project involves attaching 500 different materials samples in suit case like containers to the exterior of the space station.

The containers will be fully opened and folded back to expose them to atomic oxygen bombardment, solar radiation, extreme temperature changes, and other severe space environmental factors. They will remain in that configuration until retrieved by International Space Station astronauts and brought back to Earth aboard a space shuttle.

Programme manager and engineer for the Materials on the International Space Station Experiment program (MISSE), Shane Juhl said that the International Space Station provides a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate and qualify promising new materials that may offer weight, performance and cost savings benefits.

“No single piece of equipment or facility currently exists that can simultaneously expose materials to all the damaging environmental effects of space,” Juhl said.

Until now, the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate staff has deployed only passive experiments to the International Space Station. The ongoing MISSE mission incorporates eight active AFRL experiments that collect and store data in real time continuously or at set intervals for later analysis.

“The transition to more active experimentation will provide unprecedented information about the on-orbit effects on material properties of interest and will help reduce material screening and qualification costs and free up funding for mission-critical programmes”, said Juhl.

This is the sixth instalment in a series of materials experiments to the International Space Station via a space shuttle.