The Cygnus spacecraft is about to hitch a ride atop Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket to deliver roughly 2,000 kilograms of experiments and hardware to test on the International Space Station. These payloads are designed to push human space exploration, especially as we prepare for NASA’s Artemis mission and one day, sending a crew to Mars. Scientists want to make a livable environment among the stars, but some of our biggest challenges are communication delays, sustainability, and radiation exposure. To combat these issues, some of the most thrilling investigations consist of utilizing a ‘space internet’ to remotely control an advanced rover from ESA, Made in Space’s Plastic Recycler, and a brand new, never been space-tested before, radiation-protection vest from Lockheed Martin and StemRad. Now, scouting new planets, like the exotic surface of Mars, with robots, is the safest and most efficient way to investigate areas of interest for human exploration. However, right now, we’re incapable of remotely controlling these seamlessly. The delay time for a radio signal from mission control to a planetary rover is wildly inefficient and this antiquated technology can create massive latency issues resulting in missed opportunities. But ESA’s METERON project is developing new communications, robot interfaces, and hardware for astronauts to control robots from thousands of kilometers away. More specifically, from onboard a spacecraft orbiting whatever planetary body they’re investigating. The robot should be on the surface, and the astronaut controls the robot from onboard the spacecraft. So what makes these robots different from what we already have is that they operate through a “space internet” and they’re equipped with their own haptic systems, meaning astronauts onboard an orbiting spacecraft can feel the sensitivity the robot feels when picking something up, like a rock. And this technology helps massively to do certain maintenance tasks that would not be possible without the feedback. ESA has been testing this technology for the last few years with various iterations of robots. Cyngus will be delivering the key piece of this haptic technology, the Sigma 7 joystick, for their new experiment, ANALOG-1. This investigation will be a combination of everything the team has learned so far on the Meteron project and also will be the most advanced version of their haptic technology being controlled in orbit. This is the first experiment that we control a complete robot with a complete sixth degree of freedom haptic device onboard the space station. So Haptics-1 and Haptics-2 was just the simple one degree of freedom choice. Now we’ll be going one step further to the 60 degree haptic device that controls the robotic arm in all three translations and all three rotations. And these innovative systems can do more outside of the space mission as well. And also the prospect of it you think of this technologies what what it could mean for for us that we have similar problems in deep sea robotics and so on. That would be quite handy to use similar technologies to control robots. Or think of nuclear power plants. To send in a robot with remote operation, and safe distance. And this is just one of the many robotic instruments onboard the ISS, but this next device could be key in helping astronauts achieve more sustainable stays in space. Right now, the ISS takes extreme measures to make sure it’s efficient in preserving resources, recycling air and water, reducing waste, and repurposing materials. But even then, trash accumulates and it can weigh up to two metric tons. So the only way astronauts can receive or get rid of these materials is utilizing a commercial resupply vehicle. To help address the waste, innovative 3D printing devices, like Made in Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility, was introduced to the station to have astronauts print their own tools and supplies, but there’s one problem: the 3D printer still receives its restock of filaments from Earth. And this is where the Plastic Recycler comes in. We’re launching the Recycler to the International Space Station to add the capability of being able to use the materials on orbit, primarily the waste materials for something beneficial. The machine isn’t too far off from what you’d find here on Earth except it will primarily use a green polyethylene, which is a renewable polymer made from sugarcane by a team at Braskem’s Innovation & Technology. The polymer and other plastic like it will be broken down using the Recycler. The Recycler starts by taking plastic bags, bubble wrap, 3D printed polyethylene parts, into a chamber. From that point, the material flows through a grinding system that turns it into a fluffy, ground-up powder that is stored in a hopper. That then injects that material into an extrusion system. The extrusion system melts the material and turns it into a 1.75 millimeter filament. It’s cooled and then wrapped on a spool, then we can take that spool as a feedstock cartridge, and put that into our manufacturing device 3D printer. We can now use material, print with it, reprocess it, turn it back into feedstock, and create this closed loop system. This is exactly what astronauts are going to need in missions that travel further into our solar system and away from our home planet. Future space explorations are gonna rely on humans utilizing available resources and having a very sustainable ecosystem. And part of that entails local manufacturing: building what you need on demand, on sight, where you’re at, with what you have available. This brings a whole new level of sustainability and re-usability to the International Space Station. But space is full of uncompromising conditions like high levels of radiation exposure, so our aspirations to live on the moon and Mars remain close to impossible… for now. After mission delivery, astronauts will be partaking in the “Comfort and Human Factors: AstroRad Radiation Garment Evaluation,” otherwise known as “CHARGE” or the AstroRad Vest investigation. This garment is made with hydrogen-rich materials that will provide protection against space radiation. Female crew members have been chosen for this experiment because they have the greatest sensitivity to this harsh environment due to radiation-induced cancer risk to ovaries and breast tissue. They will be wearing the vests for over 3-4 weeks, doing their daily duties onboard the ISS and will provide feedback about its flexibility and comfort. When it’s all over, the data will be analyzed by researchers back on Earth, where they’ll make improvements to the design to be ready for future missions. So it’s safe to say that all these payloads are going to make drastic changes in the future of space mission technology. When the Antares rocket launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, we’ll be one step closer to improving our ability to stay and explore our solar system to the fullest capacity. Going to the ISS is cool, but there’s a future mission that’s headed to an all-metal asteroid named Psyche. This will be the first time humans will see a world like this and we cover everything about it in this episode here. Are there are any other launches that you’d like to see us cover? Let us know down in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe to Seeker for all your rocket launch news. Thanks for watching.