STP-H7 and H8 Scientific Payloads Successfully Installed, Collecting Data on the ISS

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  • By Lisa Sodders
Two U.S. Space Force experimental science payloads were successfully installed on the International Space Station last week and have begun collecting data, Space Systems Command officials said.

The STP-H7 and H8 payloads, carrying a total of nine experiments, were initially launched Dec. 21, 2021, aboard NASA’s SpaceX-24 resupply mission to the ISS. They were transferred to ISS external modules using the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM) from the Cargo Dragon trunk.

“The STP team was incredibly excited to see both the H7 and H8 payloads go from concepts to full-fledged payloads installed on the ISS in just over three years and encompassing a time-period encumbered by a global pandemic,” said William Chastain, STP-H8 Mission Manager/STP Houston Technical Director. “Building, testing, certifying, and flying two STP-Houston flagship payloads on a single flight was a major first for our small remote operating location (OL-S),” Chastain said. “Both payloads were fully deployed with all science experiments functional within just a few hours of the robotic transfers.”

STP-H8 was the first of the payloads to be removed from the SpaceX Dragon trunk by NASA’s robotics operators on Jan. 7 and installed on its external hosting site, the Japanese Experiment Module. STP-H8 involved a robotic hand-off from the SPDM to the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System, Chastain said.

The three experiments on H8 include a microwave radiometer designed to measure ocean surface wind data; a passive radiometer to provide companion data by measuring the time evolution of clouds; and a radiation monitor with a new type of gamma ray detection material.

On Jan. 11, STP-H7 was installed on the European Space Agency’s Columbus module to begin its mission. Once installed, the STP ops team at STP’s Houston location powered up the payload and conducted activation of the STP-H7 platform systems and all six experiments and completed functional testing with the support of the experiment teams, said Craig R. Lamb, STP’s Human Spaceflight Payloads Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

STP-H7’s six one-year experiments include a near-infrared camera designed to observe airglow, the faint emission of light in the upper atmosphere at the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space; an experiment to acquire imagery of scenes while the sun is in its field of view; an experiment to adapt and evaluate advanced sensing and computing technologies for autonomous sensor processing on small spacecraft; a neuromorphic camera that will demonstrate a novel means of detecting sprites, or large-scale electric discharges; an experiment using GPS to measure sea state and ocean surface vector winds; and a radiation monitor.

“Experiments and demonstrators such as those on STP-H7 and H8 are critical first steps to getting new technologies into the pipeline, verifying the viability of the technology in a low-cost, low-threat environment before investing the necessary funding for production efforts,” Chastain said.

Chastain and Lamb said the successful mission marked two major ISS external payloads activated in five days, thanks to the combined efforts of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program, the experiment teams at Space Systems Command, Development Corps; Space Systems Command Special Programs Directorate; the Air Force Research Laboratory; Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific; the U.S. Air Force Academy; the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; SpaceX and to the NASA partners who launched and hosted STP-H7 and H8 on the ISS.

“The launch of a payload into space often gets the most attention from the public and even within our own SSC,” Lamb said. “But to us, it marks the transition of the payload from two to three years of rigorous and challenging development and flight certification work to the phase where we can finally collect data from the experiments.  It is also the point where more than 95 percent of the resources for the mission have been spent, the on-orbit operations are surprisingly cost effective.”

 “We open up command windows for the experiment teams so they can directly control their experiments and collect data in their own facility,” Lamb said. “We call it ‘keeping the lights on’ so they can run their experiments. We essentially extend their laboratory into space from the comfort of their own facility. These experiments will operate anywhere from a year to three years; we only need to step in if something goes wrong or needs our attention.”

“This transition into operations for STP-H8 and H7 also marks the point where we shift more of our resources into our next missions: STP-H9, STPSat-7, and STP-H10,” Lamb said. “We have many missions that are overlapping and running in parallel.”

“We have an on-going planning process that starts about three years before launch and results in a payload flying to the ISS and then after its useful life, is gets disposed of,” Lamb added.
“We disposed of STP-H6 by attaching it to a re-entering Cygnus resupply vehicle in Dec 2021.  That payload operated for two years on the ISS and its mission was complete.  It was safely disposed of by disintegrating it along with the Cygnus NG-16 resupply vehicle when they both re-entered the atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean.” 

The DoD’s Space Test Program has been sending experimental scientific payloads into space since 1965. To date, STP has executed more than 289 missions and provided spaceflight for more than 636 DoD experiments. The Global Positioning System started out as an early STP research project.

Space Systems Command is the U.S. Space Force field command responsible for rapidly identifying, prototyping and fielding resilient space capabilities for joint warfighters. SSC delivers sustainable joint space warfighting capabilities to defend the nation and its allies while disrupting adversaries in the contested space domain. SSC mission areas include launch acquisition and operations; space domain awareness; positioning, navigation and timing; missile warning; satellite communication; and cross-mission ground, command and control and data.