Cape Town-based Xinabox R&D, a developer of modular electronics and IoT kits for rapid prototyping and STEM education, is partnering with U.S-based Quest for Space to launch experiments to the International Space Station (ISS).
The XinaBox experiment alongside 17 other experiments affiliated with the Quest for Space Program will be launched to the ISS on 7 February 2020, onboard a Northrop Grumman NG-13 Launch Vehicle on a resupply mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. Fourteen of these experiment modules are being developed by Partner Schools as part of the Quest for Space Program, one by Texas A & M University, and two Quest Improved Design Qualification Units.
San Jose-based Valley Christian High School, started the Space Lab Program in 2009 to enable students to research, design and build unique science experiments that operate aboard the ISS for a minimum of 30 days. Quest for Space is a non-profit focused on making these and other programs available to schools globally.
In an email chat with Space in Africa, Dan Saldana, Director of ISS and Satellite Programs at Valley Christian Schools, notes that the Space Lab Program was developed to help students identify and enhance their passion by applying their technical and managerial skills in the development of their unique science experiment. The goal is for the students to develop, launch and perform a post-flight analysis on their experiment within the school year.
Since the first launch to the ISS in January 2010 onboard a Japanese HIV-3 ISS Service Vehicle carrying a student plant growth experiment, Quest for Space has expanded its program beyond the shores of the United States, to include partner schools from Finland, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia. As of today, Quest for Space and its Partner Schools have launched a total of 138 student experiments to the ISS.
The launch in February will include the XinaBox experiment as a pilot to demonstrate cutting-edge technology of the XK92 xChips – Xinabox’s latest kit developed for the ISS mission. Schools across the globe will be engaged to concurrently collect data, with their XK92 kit, for data analysis and interpretation on Earth. Student teams will compare their data with that recovered from the ISS XK92, upon its return to Earth on the SpaceX 20 mission.
While onboard the ISS, the XinaBox payload will collect various datasets ranging from temperature to humidity, pressure, volatile organic compounds, g-force and acceleration. The datasets will be stored on a SD card to be assessed once the experiments return to Earth after some weeks.
The XinaBox payload, just as other Quest for Space experiments, will independently carry out its research after it is unpacked, without requiring assistance from the astronauts on the ISS.
During the mission, schools and engineering clubs within the XinaBox ecosystem will develop and run mirror experiments using the XK92 xChips to collect and analyze data to be compared with the dataset on the SD card from the ISS.
“Schools can record more data at the same time, which means that they are not only able to record their data and compare it with the data from the International Space Station, but they can also look at the data from other institutions that have conducted the experiment anywhere in the world,” Bjarke Gotfredsen, the inventor and co-founder of XinaBox told Space in Africa.
“The idea is to have students in a classroom mirror science experiments conducted on the International Space Station and experience the dream of collecting space data for scientific research,” Judi Sandrock, co-founder of XinaBox, said, pointing out that they intend making available the ISS mission payload as a learning kit for schools to build upon.
“We would like the students to come up with different ideas of what they could learn from the large selection of valuable data sets collected on the SD card while onboard the ISS. We are looking at the mission from a scientific inquiry perspective. This will spur students’ curiosity and enable schools to expand the outcomes of the research.”
Commenting on how the mission aligns with the goals of the Quest for Space Program, Saldana said “the program takes the student from the concept of their idea to the shipping of their final product through analyzing the experimental results upon its return. Students have hands-on experience specifying, designing, and building their one of a kind experiment by meeting defined milestones and presenting their design to NASA Safety for review.”
“Three things make the XinaBox xChips viable for many more schools around the world. One is that they don’t need a lab to put it together. Two, the kit itself is not expensive compared to what people normally send to the International Space Station. Three, because it takes up so little space, it can be easily packaged together with the Quest for Space program. These three factors help to expand or open up space for many more schools,” Gotfredsen said.
While the launch in February 2020 is a proof of concept for what Judi Sandrock believes is the first of many in the company’s partnership with Quest for Space, it is important to point out that this is not XinaBox’s first orbit experience.
On 17 April 2019, the ThinSat Programme launched a constellation of 55 student picosatellites into space, using XinaBox as the payload to study weather conditions and carry out scientific experiments in Extreme Low Earth Orbits. XinaBox supplied the kits and content for building the picosatellites and supported sixteen schools in the Western Cape of South Africa that collectively developed one of the picosatellites.
Xinabox co-founders believe the new partnership between Quest for Space and XinaBox will broaden opportunities for schools in emerging regions, particularly in Africa, to send experiments to the ISS through the Quest for Space Program.
Judi said the Quest for Space Program is comparatively attractive to schools across the world, adding that the introduction of Xinabox will further lower the cost considerably because the XinaBox xChips take less space and energy.
“We look forward to having Partner Schools from Africa and other parts of the world join our Quest for Space Programs,” Saldana said.
All of the Quest for Space Lab Partner Schools are invited to attend and compete in the annual American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) Conference student poster competition. The students prepare and present a poster on their experiment to the NASA Research Scientists, and the winners get cash prizes and an opportunity to present to and network with NASA’s top research scientists.
The Quest for Space Lab educational research flight opportunity was made available to Valley Christian High School of San Jose, California, via a partnership with the Quest Institute for Quality Education, and by Space Tango who provides both the payload architecture and in-flight operations on the International Space Station.
For schools wanting to participate in the program, contact Judi Sandrock on firstname.lastname@example.org or have a look at the kit on XinaBox XK92 product page.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.