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Spinoff 1996

Technology for Space Research

of aerospace technology fading together
Space Access and Technology

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A major NASA space research objective involves provision of innovative technology to enable ambitious future space missions and build capability for the U.S. space industry through focused technology efforts.

A milestone of that objective was a 1996 Space Shuttle mission devoted almost entirely to research directed toward expansion of the commercial space frontier. The mission was STS-77, Orbiter Endeavour, launched May 19; more than 90 percent of the payloads aboard Endeavour were sponsored by NASA's Office of Space Access and Technology (OSAT).

photograph of the Space Shuttle payload bay with the SPACEHAB research laboratory inside of it
Carried in the Space Shuttle Orbiter's payload bay, the SPACEHAB space research laboratory doubles the habitable volume of the Orbiter and quadruples the volume available for crew-tended experiment hardware.

Primary payloads of STS-77 included the commercially-developed SPACEHAB module, which supported a wide range of commercial development experiments; an experiment in deploying a large inflatable antenna; and a suite of four technology advancement experiments collectively known as TEAMS (Technology Experiments for Advancing Missions in Space).

Developed by SPACEHAB, Inc., Arlington, Virginia, the SPACEHAB Space Research Laboratory is intended to meet a need for additional experiment facilities on Shuttle flights. Carried in the Orbiter's payload bay and accessed through an airlock, SPACEHAB is a pressurized facility that roughly doubles the Orbiter's human-habitable volume and quadruples the volume available for crew-tended payload hardware. STS-77 carried the fourth flight of the module, SPACEHAB-04; it contained almost 3,000 pounds of flight hardware, virtually all of it in support of NASA's objective to facilitate industry use of space for commercial products and services.

Two of the basic SPACEHAB modules were built and flight-certified in a development program financed entirely by private capital. Under contract to SPACEHAB, McDonnell Douglas Corporation conducted design, development and construction of the basic module. SPACEHAB also offers a double module, used on Shuttle/Mir missions, that can carry 6,000 pounds of cargo; it was modified by the Italian company Alenia Spazio.

SPACEHAB is operated as a commercial space system; the company pays NASA for launch services and leases experiment space to U.S. and international private industry, universities, research institutions and government agencies, including NASA.

On STS-77, Endeavour carried a single-module SPACEHAB in the forward portion of the Orbiter's payload bay; the module housed almost 3,000 pounds of experiments and support equipment for 10 commercial space development payloads. Some of these payloads were developed by NASA Commercial Space Centers, which are non-profit consortia of industry, academia and government partners dedicated to using the space environment to enable creation by industry of new and improved products and services.

Examples of the types of experiments carried out in the SPACEHAB laboratory include:

  • The Advanced Separation Process for Organic Materials, designed to enhance separation technologies for medical products (sponsored by the Consortium for Materials Development in Space, University of Alabama-Huntsville).

  • The Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, a system for investigation of molecular, cellular, tissue, small animal and plant systems (sponsored by BioServe Space Technologies, NASA's Commercial Space Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder).

  • A series of Commercial Float Zone Furnace experiments designed to produce large, ultrapure compound semiconductor and mixed oxide crystals for electronic devices and infrared detectors (the experiments are joint efforts of Marshall Space Flight Center, the Canadian Space Agency and the German Space Agency).

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